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Literature / Blubber

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Blubber is a novel by Judy Blume, first published in 1974.

Linda Fischer, the pudgiest girl (though not the pudgiest student) in Mrs. Minish's fifth-grade class, is singled out for bullying (physical and emotional) by Wendy, the classroom's queen bee, and everyone, including the narrator, Jill Brenner, happily joins in. Then the tables turn on Jill and suddenly, it’s not funny any more.

Blubber was banned from many school libraries and reading lists because of violence and language.

This book provides examples of:

  • Actual Pacifist: Linda tries to solve the problem by dialogue. It fails.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • The teachers scold the kids occasionally for their antics (Miss Rothbelle even makes them stay after school and write sentences), but never make a move to stop it. Jill's mother comforts her when the class turns on her, but doesn't step in to actually help her. When Jill and Tracy are forced to rake Mr. Machinist's yard as punishment for their prank, Jill's dad defends the girls when Machinist (rightly, at least in Jill's case) calls them "brats," and afterward doesn't disagree when Jill remarks that Machinist really did deserve the prank, thus ensuring that Jill hasn't learned a thing from this. Linda does tell authority figures about the bullying, but they do nothing to punish the perpetrators and believe Wendy's cockamamie explanations instead. Part of it could be Mrs. Minish's refusal to believe that her kids could be so cruel (that line of dialogue is even the title of one chapter in the book).
    • Worse yet, the adults blame the victims of the bullying. Linda takes the blame when the class plays keep-away with her apple at lunchtime and it ends up on the floor, because it's her apple; and Jill is yelled at by the school bus driver for taking too long to board when she has to put her books and lunch back together after Wendy and her posse tore them apart. The adults also make it worse for Linda by publicly humiliating her: when the girls go for their fall weigh-ins, the nurse broadcasts Linda's weight out loud and scolds her for being overweight, thus giving Wendy and posse more ammunition against Linda.
    • Probably the only adult in the book who isn't useless is the nanny, Mrs. Sandmeier, who seems to fill a role similar to Ole Golly in Harriet the Spy in that she does more parenting than both of Jill's parents put together. It's telling that when the tables turn on Jill, the first person she tells about it (in a letter) is Mrs. Sandmeier (although, being on vacation in Switzerland, Mrs. Sandmeier isn't in a position to help).
  • All Girls Like Ponies: Donna actually wants to marry a horse when she grows up. She even has one picked out, his name is San Salvadore.
  • Alpha Bitch: Wendy is the de facto leader of Jill's class. Almost everyone in the class obeys Wendy, and even the teacher would believe her words over everyone else's. If anyone ever dared to challenge her, that is: "Everyone knows you don't cross Wendy," Jill tells us, and when Jill dares to do just that, the consequences are dire.
  • Annoying Laugh: Caroline, whose laugh Jill compares to a hyena's (although she's never heard a hyena laugh, she's certain it would sound like Caroline).
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Played with. Jill, the narrator, considers her little brother annoying because he's a walking trivia machine who spouts off tidbits from the Guinness Book of World Records night and day. However, outside the Protagonist-Centered Morality, he comes off as infinitely more likable than his big sister - for example, when he manages to befriend Linda at Warren Winkler's Bar Mitzvah.
  • Apathetic Teacher: Mrs Minish at times. She doesn't seem to notice Caroline copying all Wendy's answers during a history test, and keeps insisting Jill do the math homework the way she set out despite acknowledging her answers are all correct. Jill outright wishes she had a teacher more like Tracy's and that Mrs. Minish would just wake up.
  • Asshole Victim: Jill herself. When she takes Linda's place at the bottom of the class hierarchy, we're supposed to feel sorry for her, and yet not once does she ever reflect that this was how Linda felt when Jill and her friends tormented her.
  • Berserk Button: Never call Jill's best friend Tracy a racial slur. Ever. And never suggest that Jill has a crush on Warren Winkler.
  • Beta Bitch: Caroline mostly, although Donna and Jill herself also fill this role (and so does Linda after Jill becomes the class outcast). Jill actually calls attention to this near the end, calling Caroline out on being Wendy's lapdog when they corner her in the bathroom.
  • Break the Haughty: Averted, because Jill doesn't really learn anything (or at least not the lesson she SHOULD have learned) from becoming the target of bullying herself.
  • The Bully: Wendy is the one who started bullying Linda, and, later, had the whole class turn on Jill when the latter defied her.
  • Calling Me a Logarithm: The kids "insult" Linda by calling her "flubsy," "bestial," and "carnivore," though they have no idea what those words mean. Jill later calls Kenny "carnivore" as well in a fit of rage.
  • Compressed Vice: For Jill, it's nail biting. To the point where her father makes a deal with her: he'll buy her a whole bunch of stamps if she can make it the rest of the year without nibbling her nails. Jill does well until Wendy starts bullying her, when she relapses, but gets back on the wagon by the end of the book.
  • Cool Old Lady: Jill's first impression of her great-aunt Great Maudie, who moves in as temporary nanny while Mrs. Sandmeier is on vacation. She's a health-food, natural-living and yoga enthusiast. At first Jill thinks she'll enjoy having Great Maudie stay with them because she's gregarious and has a great laugh, but she changes her mind once Maudie (who either won't, or can't, cook "regular" foods) throws away her sugary breakfast cereals and makes her eat health foods like wheat germ mush.
    • Mrs. Sandmeier herself counts, as she can apparently, at age 58, take on fourth-grader Kenny and all of his friends in basketball and beat them single-handedly.
  • Creepy Child: Wendy and her followers are a borderline example. They write lists of new ways to torment Linda, including forcibly undressing her on two separate occasions and forcing her to say, "I am Blubber, the smelly whale of Class 206" until Linda is saying it on her own without anyone telling her to. Later, they torture Jill in the exact same ways, including attacking her at the bus stop and throwing her books on the ground. It gets to the point where Jill purposely decides it's safer to wear pants to school so she won't be forced to show the boys her panties - not that this dissuades Wendy and friends from threatening to strip her anyway.
  • Deceptively Silly Title: The title sounds silly, but it's actually the mean-spirited nickname given to an overweight girl by her bullying peers. The book is a harshly realistic look at bullying.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Wendy, definitely. She's adept at telling teachers what they want to hear and manages to remain on their good side for the most part.
  • Double Standard: Touched on regarding overweight males versus overweight females. Jill notes that one of the boys gleefully tormenting Linda for her "blubber" is extremely overweight and is, in fact, fatter than her. Even better, he's jumping rope to a mocking chant directed towards the title character. Special attention is called to his undulating rolls of fat in the narration.
    • Averted regarding the gym teacher, Mr. Witneski, whom Jill likes because he treats the girls and boys as equals.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Jill participates in the class bullying alongside Wendy, Caroline and Donna, but she isn't quite as far gone as them. She ends Keep away with Linda's coat when Linda is about to cry, and stands up for her when she's put on trial for telling on her and Tracy. Jill also won't smash any pumpkins on Halloween or take candy from little kids. That's just mean.
  • Fictional Country: Actually averted with Nagaland (Jill mentions her favorite stamps in her collection are from Nagaland), which is actually a real part of India.
  • Foreshadowing: Jill's mother tells her to try putting herself in Linda's position, and Jill exclaims, "I could never be in her place." "Don't be so sure," her mother tells her...
  • Gasshole: Apparently Jill's brother Kenny is one whenever he eats sauerkraut, as when Linda farts during music class, Jill reflects that she must have had sauerkraut for breakfast.
  • Gratuitous French: Part of Mrs. Sandmeier's job is to teach Jill and Kenny French, as she is Swiss and trilingual. Jill understands Mrs. Sandmeier's French but usually answers in English because she can't be bothered to think of the right French words. However, she uses a little French when writing to Mrs. Sandmeier about the bullying she's experiencing.
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend: Warren Winkler is a creepy (so Jill says) kid whose parents are good friends with Jill's parents. It's implied that the kids' parents believe the two of them will become friends (or more) when they get older. Wendy later seizes on this as one of Jill's sore spots and uses it to torment her.
  • I Am Big Boned: This is Linda's reply when the nurse scolds her for being overweight.
  • Informed Deformity: Linda is apparently the fattest girl in the class, but on the cover art she doesn't look any heavier than the rest of the girls, and she also isn't the pudgiest student in the class. Lampshaded in the book. Jill admits that she doesn't know why they all go after Linda to torment, as Linda really isn't all that big. It would seem that the reason is that the entire class is subject to Wendy's whims, as evidenced by how quickly Jill replaces Linda as the class's Butt-Monkey.
  • Karma Houdini: Wendy never received any punishments despite being the ring leader of two massive bullying episodes. The only thing that seems to work is when Jill points out that she seems to have chosen Linda as her new best friend, insulting Wendy's Girl Posse and breaking the bullying cycle.
    • In fact, no one receives any meaningful punishments for tormenting anyone. Miss Rothbelle gives the entire class a detention for one prank on Linda; it has no effect. Jill and Tracy have to rake Mr. Machinist's leaves as punishment for their prank; Jill, at least, seems to have learned nothing from the experience, as her own father, despite telling her earlier that "It's not up to you to decide who deserves what in this world," won't disagree with her assertion that Machinist deserved it after he actually meets Machinist. Jill does end up having to endure a few days of Wendy's bullying (although this still doesn't really seem to make her realize how bad her own actions were), but none of the other girls, including ringleader Wendy, suffer any consequences at all; even more significantly, the reason Wendy starts bullying Jill is that Jill finally decided to stand up for Linda, so even if one might think Jill deserved it for what she did to Linda, the whole thing is muddied by the fact that the consequence is a direct result of the one decent thing she does over the course of the story.
  • Keep Away: Played first with Linda's jacket, then later Jill's math book.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Even the main character partakes in the bullying of an overweight loner. When she gets bullied herself, it's no longer a laughing manner. Parents have been known to complain that no one gets punished at the end.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Linda's nickname of "Blubber," and later Jill's nickname of B.B. ("Baby Brenner").
  • Man Bites Man: Averted. When Jill is afraid of what Wendy and her posse will do to her, Tracy suggests she try biting them if they attack her and describes some of the damage the human bite can do. Jill never gets the chance, though, because Wendy and her gang are too fast for her.
  • Manipulative Bitch: Wendy. She manages to convince the school principle that she only told Linda her candy was a chocolate ant to dissuade her from trying to eat it due to her being on a diet, to cover up the fact the class forced the ant down Linda's throat.
    • Jill toward the end of the book manages to wreck the friendship between Wendy and Caroline by convincing the latter that Linda has replaced her as Wendy's best friend. (Not that those two didn't deserve it.)
  • Moral Guardians: The book was banned in a lot of places for its complete lack of sugarcoating, Karma Houdini ending, and the use of curse words by young kids. Another, darker reason is that some claim it to be fuel for future bullies.
    • There's an element of Broken Aesop here as well, as more recent editions of the book feature commentary from Judy Blume herself urging readers who are being bullied or witness bullying taking place to tell someone they trust, but on the other hand, the authority figures in the book are all inept and/or uncaring, which implies that telling an authority figure won't always help. Interestingly, the way Jill solves the problem is by refusing to be a victim, fighting back in any way she can, to the point that Wendy starts to leave her alone, possibly because she doesn't find it fun to bully someone who won't take it.
  • Morality Pet: Tracy seems to be this for Jill, as she's the only one Jill has a consistent good relationship with. Even after Jill becomes her class's Butt-Monkey, Tracy continues to stand by her.
    • Tracy is an interesting case: She doesn't seem to like Linda any more than Jill or anyone else and in fact participates with Jill in vandalizing Linda's house on Halloween. However, she seems to grow and mature in ways Jill doesn't, as evidenced when she refuses to take part in Wendy's revenge plan because she's not convinced Linda was the one who tattled on her and Jill for their prank on Mr. Machinist. Part of this could be due to better parenting, as it's implied that Tracy's parents are much more hands-on and involved with their daughter than are Jill's (Mrs. Wu even has time to make Tracy's award-winning Halloween costume, while Jill's mother barely has time to talk to her daughter let alone do things like cook, leaving the parenting to the nanny).
  • My Beloved Grandsmother: Jill's grandmother never appears but is mentioned several times and described by Jill as such, since she won't let Jill or Kenny ride bikes for fear they'll get hurt and "made [Jill] wear a hat and mittens when it was positively roasting out." On the other hand, Grandma is a pro at cooking and cleaning, which is why Jill ultimately decides she'd rather have Grandma babysit them than Great Maudie (who forces her health-food hippie lifestyle on the kids) whenever Mrs. Sandmeier has to take a vacation.
  • Nature Tinkling: As mentioned under Potty Emergency below, Tracy and Jill relieve themselves by peeing on Mr. Machinist's trees.
  • No Ending: The book really doesn't have a conclusion. It just sort of stops in a "just another day" kind of fashion.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Towards the end of the story, Jill finally decides Wendy has gone too far and pushes back against her — while it may be too little too late, it's probably the most decent thing she does in the story. She's rewarded for this by having all the bullying that had been of Linda turned against her instead, with Linda herself even joining with Wendy, who had spearheaded the bullying against her, to take part in picking on Jill; again, Wendy's bullying of Jill is retaliation because Jill stood up for Linda.
  • Oral Fixation: When Jill's mother quits smoking, she takes up chewing bubble gum to keep her mouth busy. Jill is impressed at the size of the bubbles her mother can blow.
  • Pet the Dog: Wendy's idea of this regarding Linda is to force her to kiss Bruce, the actual chubbiest kid in the class, ostensibly to "reward" Linda for her compliance in becoming the class butt-monkey. Bruce is actually chased down and held down while Linda kisses him (on the cheek, as Bruce threatens to spit at Linda if she kisses him on the lips). Jill remarks afterward that Linda seemed to enjoy it, which may be at least partially true, as Bruce, for only that one incident, takes Linda's place at the bottom of the class pecking order.
  • Picked Last: Linda is picked last for kickball in gym class. And, after the tables turn on her, so is Jill - in an ironic twist, Linda is one of the team captains who argues to not have Jill on her team.
  • Picky Eater: Jill doesn't like a lot of things, including Chinese food and the menu at Warren's Bar Mitzvah. It's possibly the reason she's so skinny, and she's actually called out for it a few times.
  • Playground Song: Linda goes on a diet to lose some weight, but it doesn't curb the teasing. Donna, the horse enthusiast, even adapts a malicious jump-rope rhyme she made up about a summer camp counselor to mock Linda for going on a diet.
  • Potty Emergency: Jill and Tracy's punishment for their prank on Mr. Machinist is having to rake his huge backyard. Both badly need to pee before they're finished, and both opt to water the man's trees rather than humiliate themselves by begging permission to use his bathroom.
  • Razor Apples: Discussed Trope. Jill and Kenny's mother makes them give any apples they get when trick or treating to Mrs. Sandmeier to cut up due to fearing that this urban legend is true (though said apples have never had a single razor blade in them).
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Critics initially accused Judy Blume of exaggerating the cruel nature of the kids in the story, saying that bullying couldn't possibly be as intense as she described. As nearly any middle schooler would tell you, it really is that bad. An afterword published later on stated that Judy wrote this book after her daughter described how the popular girl in her class turned everyone against one girl. Like the characters in this book, no one wanted to stand up for this girl because they were afraid of being targeted the way Jill was at the end.
  • Rebound Best Friend: Jill participates in the teasing of the heavyset Linda as led by Alpha Bitch Wendy. But when Jill realizes that Wendy has gone too far, she protests her cruelty and stands up for Linda. Wendy takes revenge by turning the whole class against Jill and declaring that Linda is her new best friend. This pattern continues throughout the novel, and by the end of the book, nearly everyone has traded best friends, but Jill manages to keep a true companion in Tracy, who has shown Undying Loyalty throughout the whole story.
  • Reincarnation: Much to Jill's annoyance, Linda and Kenny strike up a friendship at Warren Winkler's Bar Mitzvah after party, bonding over their shared belief in ESP and reincarnation. Apparently Linda believes she has been reincarnated six times.
  • School Bullying Is Harmless: HELL NO.
  • Shameful Strip: After trapping Linda in the girls' bathroom, Wendy orders Jill (dressed as a flenser for Halloween) to "strip the Blubber" and not stop until Linda has to run down the hall "in her blubbery birthday suit." It never gets that far, but the girls do reveal Linda's undershirt and flowery underpants before letting her off with a lesser humiliation. Wendy later threatens to do the same to Jill and tries to make Caroline strip her, though Jill manages to avoid this by turning Wendy and Caroline against each other instead.
  • Shout-Out: Tracy's Big Bird Halloween costume, homemade by her mother, wins the school's contest for most beautiful costume. And Jill wishes her class could do a Thanksgiving pageant like the Christmas pageant in Harriet the Spy, in which Harriet got to roll around on the floor while playing an onion.
    • In fact, both Blubber and Harriet the Spy have thematic similarities, in that in both books, the protagonist is singled out for bullying by the rest of her class.
    • It's also possible that the character of Great Maudie may have been inspired by the title character of the sitcom Maude as played by Bea Arthur.
  • The Show Must Go Wrong: Played with, with a bit of All Part of the Show mixed in. Wendy convinces everyone to sabotage the class choir concert by making Linda sing the word "breast" solo in the lullaby "Sweet and Low" (and not telling Linda about it beforehand). They then continue singing as if nothing had happened while the audience dissolves into hysterical laughter.
  • Shrinking Violet: Averted with Linda, who isn't really as much of a doormat as Jill tries to portray her. She does try to run when cornered by her classmates though she typically doesn't get far. She tells authority figures, as anyone who's being bullied should, but in this book Adults Are Useless. In fact, Linda is more than willing to tell Jill off whenever Wendy's not around - not that it does any good.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Jill does eventually call Wendy on her bullshit, even if in the end it amounts to little. (All it does is cost Wendy her friendship with Caroline.)
  • Smoking Is Not Cool: Jill never misses a chance to lecture her mother, who smokes, about the dangers of cigarettes, and is ecstatic when her mother decides to quit (although, apparently not understanding how hard it is for a smoker to quit, she is quick to go ballistic when she catches her mother sneaking a cigarette later in the book).
  • Status Quo Is God: The novel ends with Jill breaking the bullying cycle by pointing out that Wendy's a jerk, but all it does is stop Wendy from picking on her. Linda's still alone, and no one has really learned anything.
  • Token Good Teammate: Rochelle, who is quiet and stays out of the class' bullying behavior. It's implied she doesn't approve of her classmates' treatment of Linda but is afraid to speak up, which she finally does on the day of Linda's "trial." She becomes Jill's new friend at the end of the book.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Jill loves peanut butter sandwiches, to the point where she sneaks one to Warren's Bar Mitzvah to eat when she doesn't like the food provided. One of the starting points for her friendship with Rochelle is that Rochelle has a peanut butter sandwich too.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Nobody expects kids to be perfect little saints, but Wendy's style of bullying is borderline sociopathic at times. For example, she orders her friends to strip Linda in the bathroom and make her run down the hall "in her blubbery birthday suit."
  • True Meaning of Christmas: Or in the book, true meaning of Bar Mitzvahs. Jill sees all the gifts Warren Winkler is receiving for his Bar Mitzvah and remarks she'd like to have one herself. Her mother tells her that the true meaning of the ceremony is religious, the practice of reading aloud from the Torah.
  • Villain Protagonist: While Jill isn't the ringleader of the bullying campaign against Linda, she certainly doesn't help and even suggests some punishments.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Mr. Machinist, according to Jill. She mentions that he seems like just the type to hide a razor blade in an apple in order to hurt a trick-or-treater. Given the book's Protagonist-Centered Morality, it's unclear whether he actually is as evil as Jill says; it's just as likely he dislikes Jill and her friends because he's sick of having pranks (such as rotten eggs in his mailbox, courtesy of Jill and Tracy) played on him.
  • Writing Lines: The class's punishment for pranking Linda during the choir concert is to stay after school and write "I was very rude yesterday. I will not misbehave in music again" 100 times. Linda is the only one exempt from the punishment, which does no good anyway in terms of stopping the bullying.