Jealousy Breeds Cruelty

As the second half of the novel unfolds, Jenny is more and more honest with her audience, and I began to get a clear idea of not only her selfish snobbery but also her intense jealousy for a relationship that she herself cannot have. In the first half of the novel, I did not seem to notice or rest on any comments about the physical grandness or extravagance of Baldry Court. There are descriptions that hint at their wealth and the grandness of the estate, but at least for me as a reader, I did not dwell on these descriptions during the first half of the novel. With Jenny’s true character increasingly being unveiled, we see her real intentions, her real feelings, and her actual snobbish self-worth.

Her focus on aesthetics and material superiority is evident in the first sentence of chapter four. Extenuating circumstances make Jenny the one to have to go retrieve Margaret, and Kitty is spared. But Jenny unnecessarily includes the reason: “Next morning it appeared that the chauffeur had to take the Rolls-Royce up to town to get a part replaced, and Margaret could not be brought from Wealdstone till the afternoon” (43). We suddenly see that Jenny is a proponent of labels, and that by referencing the Rolls-Royce, even her audience can envision the luxury and elegance of her mode of travel. As we soon learn, Jenny sees Wealdstone as utterly disgusting and an embarrassment as a place to live. Wealdstone is not a brand name, but after Jenny’s description, we are able to see the sharp contrast between the Rolls and the supposed slum where Margaret lives.

As I read this part of the novel, I felt like I could hear Jenny’s thoughts in the voice of a jealous, snobby teenage girl. But she is no longer keeping her rude comments to herself. When Margaret gets excited about the idea of seeing Chris for the first time, Jenny is obviously annoyed, so when Margaret offers a negative comment about her own house (“It’s a horrid little house, isn’t it?”) I at least expected Jenny to kindly twist it into something slightly positive. Instead she agrees, saying, “‘It isn’t very nice’” (49). Jenny seems to bask in Margaret’s insecurities, and notices her “shyness because she felt herself so big and clumsy” (49). To me – even though the circumstances are extremely odd – Jenny’s jealousy seems so obvious, and she covers up what she is lacking with what she does have: material possessions. Jenny confirmed my beliefs when she reluctantly admits, “I suppose that the truth is that I was physically so jealous of Margaret that it was making me ill” (57).

In this situation, Jenny feels herself on the “outside,” and unable to get whatever the “insiders” have got to be included. Exclusion is a feeling of which she is probably not familiar. Jenny’s natural reaction to being excluded is to respond reciprocally. She flaunts her and Chris’s material possessions, pointing out Margaret’s lack of affluence. She prides herself on being an accurate judge of aesthetics and in classic mean-girl fashion, makes herself feel better by putting others down. Of course, this sense of superiority is fleeting and, in general, material possessions rarely overrule emotional ties. Jenny is conniving and cruel-hearted in these last chapters. I believe that this cruelty is a defense mechanism for the weakness she feels for not having the type of relationship Margaret and Chris have.

-Maggie Burch

 

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