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Friday, October 7, 2011

Dairy Queen

I wrote this for my childrens lit class. We could only write 1850 words and let me tell you it was hard. Later when I get more time, I want to add a lot more to it. I was talking to one of my favorite English profs I take the bus with and I was telling her how I would love to be a scholarly writer. So, I am going to try. :) Anyway, here is the analysis so far... when I add more, I will post.

Jessica Marie
Dr. Pat Pflieger
LIT 220/ Fall 2011
4 October 2011
            The once bright sun sets on the stadium, the chilly winds blow against fans dressed in green and yellow, now a source of warmth besides our beloved fan gear. We start heckling the opposing team and the fans dressed in their jerseys and the face paint that covers their faces—we begin to dance and like wild animals as we chant the Fight Song. Although this is a recollection from my memory of a Packers game I went to in Green Bay, it fits the mood and style of Catherine Murdock’s novel Dairy Queen. A coming of age tale, it is through football that the protagonist, D.J. Schwenk, learns about her wants and desires instead of her father’s and in the process she becomes a better friend, sister, and daughter and in her growing process figures out she can be great as her brothers in her own way.
            Dairy Queen is set in Red Bend, Wisconsin, a town and high school (which are a centrifugal part of a teenager’s life) that D.J. describes as small. D.J.  states that because of the school’s smallness, their football team only “play[s] eight-on-eight instead of eleven on the side” (6). D.J. makes reference to this fact because they aren’t as good as their rival Hawley, a school that has twice the amount of players, “win everything” and “Hawley kids and some Hawley grownups too, act like [Red Bend] stinks and they’re the best” (7). Only one time that D.J. remembers that Red Bend beat Hawley and D.J. talks about how her brother Win was the greatest, but her brother Bill was even better, but still whenever she thinks about Hawley “all [she] feels is pissed off” (8). However, in the tone that is implied, it sounds like Bill or Win still didn’t make the team as good as it could have been possibly because hey choked from pressure and messes up or they were typical teenagers who didn’t always practice like D.J. claims. It is in this heroic story about her brothers; at least in the beginning the reader again assumes this; contributes a stronger rivalry between the two schools and adds to the air that is similarly felt in Green Bay and Milwaukee, that sports are important and a part of life to Wisconsinites. D.J. drives this point home when she receives a Vikings jersey for her birthday, but only “can wear it around the house because if I wore it to school I’d get beat up, all the other kids are such Packers fan. Teachers, too” (88) or when her mother caught her running with Brian—she simply couldn’t use sports as an excuse because “[talking about] Vikings drafts wouldn’t work, seeing as Brian follows Green Bay” (79) or using the excuse of “asking how truck sales were going [would be] the stupidest thing of all—“(79) since it is not a sport and she could care less. It is in these passages where the reader sees that D.J. is making an implied statement: maybe Red Bend is too focused on sports to see what is within people and limiting associations because of football team associations.
            The style of this novel is a memoir narrative, which we don’t find out in the end. It is in this memoir style that D.J. has to write in order to pass tenth grade English, which Dairy Queen comes full circle and explains some of the assumptions the readers have at the beginning of the book and ties up loose ends. It is in this style that we see D.J. metamorphose from a person “who complained inside and just covered it up by doing whatever Dad wanted, like frosting that covers up a bad cake” and realizing that “maybe all day long [cows] are seething and you just can’t tell. They just keep getting milked and chewing their cud and having babies because they didn’t know any better” (72) to a person who decides her own destiny and can finally talk to her parents. It is through Brian’s analogy “you’re [like] a cow. And one day in about fifty years they’re going to put you on a truck and take you away to die an you’re not going to mind that either”(25) to make the point that D.J. never rebels like someone else her age would have done if they were the only ones working a farm. Although it offends her at first, D.J. begins to take a hard, long look at her life and realizes that she does things without saying a word, but is passive-aggressive and blames others for her quitting basketball, her failing tenth grade English and not being able to go to college, but she blames her father for tearing apart the family when “they [dad, Win and Bill] had a huge fight and Bill and Win left and we haven’t spoken to them since” because “it was stupid” (143).
Through this memoir narrative the reader sees Erikson’s theory of psychosocial moratorium or when “the adolescent can experiment with different roles and identities, in a context that permits and encourages this sort of exploration” which ultimately leads to the teenager “see their parents as all-knowing or all-powerful. [In this stage] adolescents often have a great deal of emotional energy wrapped up in relationships outside the family; in fact, they may feel more attached to a boyfriend or a girlfriend than to their parents.”[1] It is through psychosocial moratorium that D.J. realizes that she’s not the only “cow,” but her family has issues; Curtis doesn’t talk out of fear of starting an argument like Bill and Win did over the holidays when “Win was saying he didn’t think he’d get drafted, and Dad made a crack about how he wasn’t working hard enough. And Win said if Dad worked as hard at farming as Win did in football, then the farm would break even. And then Dad got real mad and said it was going to be their farm someday, and Win said he didn’t want it. Dad’s exact words were: “if you’re so damn unhappy, why don’t you clear out now? And Win stood up and glared at Dad and went right upstairs and Bill followed. We hadn’t seen them since” (143).or her mother who always works to get out of the house. D.J. spots a picture of Bill and a teammate on her mother’s work printer and realizes her mother works long hours to “write to Win and Bill” since she found his picture sitting on her printer after Bill e-mailed her (151-154) and get away from the chaos in the house that goes on because she is the peacekeeper.
            Brian, D.J.’s antagonist, is another key factor in D.J.’s transformation because he allows D.J. to undergo the important process into teenagerdom [sic] not only through the cow comment, but their one on one. Brian and D.J.’s views about each other change as well. In the beginning of the novel when Brian first comes to work on the Schwenks’ farm, D.J. despises this fact and it is her father that states, “D.J., aren’t you going to say hello”(10), but of course D.J. said “no,” letting her immaturity and anger for Brian picking on Bill two years before show through. We also see immaturity in Brian as well, especially when Brian “bails” from his duties on the farm, then the night at the movies when his friends say, “Dairy Queen! Dairy Queen! Nelson, aren’t you going to say hi to Dairy Queen?” Brian just laughs at D.J. Yet, surprisingly Jimmy Ott, Dad’s best friend is a coach for Hawley (D.J. explains that even though he is from Hawley, the Schwenks still love him, which shows that there is something to the friendship that football doesn’t spoil) approaches D.J. about coaching Brian because he believes that she will “be the only one to get through to him.” Of course, D.J. states that Brian doesn’t respect her and Jimmy Ott tells her “Respect, D.J., is something you earn” (47) coupled with Mom and Dad’s advice of “Respect goes both ways. You don’t care for someone, they can tell” (51).
            It’s after the apologies of Brian for “for being such a jerk at that game,” (69) two years prior when Bill choked and Brian along with his Hawley teammates made fun of him; and “I’m sorry those guys called you names last week. And I’m sorry that I said that stuff about you being a cow and dying and all” (70), that Brian begins to open up to D.J. D.J. believes Brian has a perfect life, especially with a mother that is compared to Oprah Winfrey, that when D.J. was talking about the problems with her brother Curtis not talking and the Schwenk family not talking about their feelings that leads to the comment from Brian that although his mother is very aware of her feelings, however, “she’s so busy helping families that she is never home,” (110) so “Oprah Winfrey” never really sees how her lessons affect her own family. We also learn that Brian is not as self-absorbed as D.J. once thought, but the only reason he blames his team and coach for him not performing well in football is because his dad tells him nothing is wrong. D.J. learns from her dad of course to be kind while coaching, but not to hold back in areas of improving; hence, why Brian respects her and all the training he has to do because of her.
            Along the lines of psychosocial moratorium, D.J. spends all her time with Brian and through their shared intimacy of expressing feelings and thoughts (she also realizes she has fun with Brian) she begins to develop a crush on him although she calls him “the guy that I am in love with” (184). This newfound crush of hers helps her push away from her father, especially when she says “His name is Brian. Brian Nelson. Is that so hard? Listen: B.R.I.A.N.” (124) and then storms out, realizing that she always wanted to play football and since she was helping Brian she ought to. However, the reader also sees this process not only with her parents, but with her best friend Amber. At the beginning of the book, Amber was her best friend that she knew everything about and could have fun with like the one time at a sleepover “she did an imitation of me being carried across the threshold on my honeymoon, carrying me and everything” (28) that foreshadows what D.J. will learn later on.
            However, after meeting Brian she realizes that everyone is like cows “even Bill and Win” and when Amber begs her to get a job with her SuperSave so they can “buy that F-150 [pickup] together” (90) that D.J. realizes that she doesn’t want that and tells Amber “Don’t the checkout ladies remind you of cows [because] well, you know with the way they stand there”(91). Of course, she hides the fact she is hanging out with Brian and has a crush on him, Amber ultimately finds out and in the worst of ways—when Brian and D.J. are having a water fight with the garden hose. Amber storms off, but later she tells D.J. “guys like Brian don’t go for basketball starters who also farm, but cute short girls” (161), which almost seems like a jealousy thing a best friend would say. It is not until the following night when D.J. is at a party and is a little drunk that Amber blurts out “”you’re with me. You’re not with him. It’s the two of us. Don’t you realize?” (169). D.J. learns that Amber is a lesbian, which makes her realize she is “that word—lesbian, gay, homosexual—they’re like medical words. Like cancer” (169). Of course, as she lets go of hanging out with Amber all the time, Amber develops a relationship with another girl and D.J. notices how happy Amber looks since she came out about her orientation.
            Although, Dairy Queen ends with D.J. not knowing what is going to happen between her and Brian, there is a finality in the novel because her family is now on speaking terms after Bill comes to D.J.’s football game, D.J.’s dad realizes that she can’t always run the farm that she has desires as well (it came out that her father loves to cook) and D.J. learns that Curtis never talks because of his fear that he will not be accepted into the family since he wants to be a dentist instead of something relating to sports. It is through the course of the summer that D.J. becomes a young adult and realizes there is more to her life than just her family and football, which is the whole point Murdock was trying to make.

[1] D.W. Dance. “During the Psychosocial Moratorium.” September 2009. <> Accessed: 03 October 2011.

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