“The Terrified Eye”

brush and ink

I’ve been curious about “the terrified eye” (which I kept calling “the terrible eye” and “the terrific eye” by mistake– Don’t you just love “eggcorns” ?) ever since I read Gary Schmidt’s book Okay for Now.  How can you not be concerned with the outcome of this eye?  Which in this case belongs to 8th grade narrator Doug Swieteck, who’s having trouble at home with an abusive father.  He finds solace in art, particularly in viewing Audubon’s illustrations for The Birds of America.  “The terrified eye” both represents the main character’s own situation and that of one of the pictured birds: The Arctic Tern ( Plate CCL).

What is even more interesting is that Schmidt seems to have been fixated on this eye for quite a while now.  It shows up in several of his other books!  In the aforementioned book’s predecessor, The Wednesday Wars, 7th grader Holling Hoodhood is constantly getting the evil eye from his teacher.  She has the habit of rolling her eyes at him, which is not a very teacherly thing to do.  😉  Our other narrator, good old Doug Swieteck, shows up in this book with a BLACK EYE.  And then there are the rats, which just happen to be named after two characters from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.  I love this line: “I looked back, and there were the demon rats, racing with their scabby paws toward me, their eyes filled with the big M–Murder!–and their pointy heads bobbing up and down with each leap.”  How’s that for imagery?

But we’re not done yet.  The eye shows up in an even earlier work, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy In this book, 13-year-old Turner Buckminster, a minister’s son mind you, starts out in a new town by getting into a fight.  An elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hurd, gives him some advice on how to handle someone bigger.  “You were supposed to hit that boy in the eye.”  Later on, Turner comes face to face with a whale while out in a boat.  Schmidt not only describes the whale, but also highlights the main character’s deep connection to it.  “Its great fins slapping the water.  and its eye…its eye.”

I decided to study my own “terrified eye” for this sumi-e painting.  I’m drawn to this eye.  Aren’t you?

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