Jacqueline’s Woodson’s novel, Feathers, is a rather short book, but one thing it isn’t short on is rich, fully developed characters. There is Frannie, Simon, their caring parents, their bible-loving grandmother, and her classmates: Samantha, Maribel, Rayray, Jesus boy, and Trevor. I’m going to admit that I have a bit of fascination with Trevor, specifically within the realm of young adult literature. Much of young adult literature is focused on the main character fulfilling some sort of destiny, discovering they have the power to shape their destiny, or coming to terms and accepting whom they are. Since Trevor is more of an antagonist in the novel, he does none of this.
Trevor is black, but he has blue eyes and is “light, lighter than most of the other kids who went to” the predominantly black school where the novel takes place. Rumor has it that Trevor’s daddy “was a white man who lived across the highway”. When Rayray, Trevor’s friend, asked him about the race of his absentee father, Trevor’s response was a punch so hard that it not only silenced Rayray, but the whole class too, as they never brought up the subject with Trevor again.
I wanted desperately to get inside Trevor’s head. To hear the thoughts that were racing up and down his adolescent brain. What were the “desires, fears, needs and conflicts of which (he was) unaware.” Was he in denial? Did he honestly not believe that his father was white? He clearly shows signs of displacement by transferring his anger to the white character Jesus, who he inadvertently named. “Jesus” was not the first name that came to mind when the young white male student shows up to the classroom for the first time. Trevor calls the white student a bad name, not once but twice and only stops when threatened by the teacher. Instead Trevor mocks the boy by saying he looks like Jesus, the name stuck.
Trevor projects the anger that he has for having a white absentee father on Jesus. I thought for a while that he might be practicing avoidance by not engaging in situations with anyone who is white, but he actively seeks out a fight with Jesus. The animosity between Trevor and Jesus boils over into that fight after Trevor meets Jesus’ father. Jesus has, throughout the novel, said that his parents are both black. His father comes to pick him up after school one day in front of Trevor. While everyone says “hello” to Jesus’ father, Trevor just stands there dumbfounded. He is at a loss for words because he is being confronted with the one thing that he so desperately wants, a black father who cares about his son.
The next time we see Jesus and Trevor together, there is a fight, but who is the fight really between? Sure, there is the actual physical fight that happens between the two boys, but this fight goes deeper then that. Trevor is lashing out at Jesus, because he is a clear representation of his father. Trevor only ever sees his father through his own reflection. Trevor is really fighting his own insecurities of being from a biracial family.
Getting inside of a young character’s head through the text and trying to decode their actions through their unconscious responses is the core of looking at text through a psychoanalytical lens. This perspective can help us as teachers get out of our own heads and into theirs. Psychoanalytic criticism of a character or a text can help teachers see the fears and insecurities of their students. Looking at the struggles of identity that Trevor has might help you understand some struggles that one of your students might have.
Feathers by Woodson, Jacqueline
Critical Theory Today by Tyson, Lois