The Realities of Being an Adult With a Job Through Beverly Cleary’s Mr. Quimby

Ramona and Her FatherPerhaps a little belated for Father’s Day, but Stephanie Lucianovic has a really wonderful essay about rereading Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books, and getting a new perspective on the theme of being a parent and adult with a job through the character of Mr. Quimby, Ramona’s father:

What we learn in the Ramona books is that Mr. Quimby was once an art major, but when Mrs. Quimby got pregnant with Beezus, he dropped out of school and got a job. We can acknowledge that some of the Ramona books were a product of their time (Cleary wrote them between 1955-1999) when getting married while in college was not as mind-boggling as it might be today, yet also still recognize that having a baby at any stage of life forces a family to completely change their life around in order to accommodate it. Dropping out of college and not finishing his art degree is the first data point in Mr. Quimby’s realistic if depressing career trajectory.

Bit by bit we find out about all the jobs Mr. Quimby has held. In Beezus and Ramona, he has an unnamed position at Pacific Gas & Electric, and in Ramona and Her Father he loses his job in an office of a small moving and storage company, and everything appears to go downhill from there. For what feels like a painfully extended time (all of Ramona and Her Father), Mr. Quimby is standing in line at unemployment, waiting by the phone for interviews and job offers, and smoking. By the close of Ramona and Her Father, Mr. Quimby has finally secured a job as a checker at a grocery store chain with management potential. In other books, we’ll learn how much he hates his checker job — once again a concept which may not mean much to the kids for whom the books were written but one which resonates far too loudly for adults — and how he’ll leave that checker job to go back to art school and then get a teaching certificate while also working part-time at another hated job in a frozen foods warehouse.

Mr. Quimby should have studied STEM. Okay, no, but seriously, I sort of want to read all of the books I read as a kid and look at them through the lens of the parents.

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12 Comments / Post A Comment

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

So many of those Ramona scenes are etched into my brain. Everyone having to stay off the phone in case a job call comes through. The trip they take to the WhopperBurger, where another man pays for their meal. Mr. Quimby having to memorize the prices of everything in the grocery store, and do all that double and triple coupon math in his head.

And of course when he starts drawing again, and gets really happy about the idea of drawing feet. :)

garli (#4,150)

@HelloTheFuture Dude yes all of those things but especially the drawing feet.

@HelloTheFuture YES ALSO when it’s Ramona’s turn to plug in the crock pot before they all leave in the morning and she forgets and they come home and the food is raw & gross, and everyone’s mad at her — and then they go out to dinner, which they never do, and she feels a little better in the end.

The Little House books are a fascinating adult read, to see the family’s struggles through an economic/make ends meet/follow your dreams lens.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

@Alicia Murphy@facebook Have you read this piece on economics of kid literature? Specifically, the Ingalls vs. the March family: both are described as poor, but one family is immensely privileged and the other lives in a dirt dugout: http://mariness.livejournal.com/905311.html

beet hummus (#946)

I remember the scene where Ramona wants her father to quit smoking so she draws a sign that says “NO SMO – KING” on two lines, and Mr. Quimby pokes fun, saying, “Who is this Nosmo King??” and Ramona is insulted/pissed/frustrated.

OH DADS.

umlauts (#977)

The money and job stuff in the Ramona books stressed me out so much as kid, probably because I came from a really similar family.

It also captured a particular child experience that I don’t think I saw anywhere else: having to go to someone’s house after school to be babysat and having to deal with their weird snacks and weird rules.

Taylor (#1,339)

@umlauts Totally! I had the anxiety over seeing money/job stuff reflected in the Ramona books, combined with a comfort in recognizing so much about how the family worked. Including the not-ideal babysitting arrangements, the rare special treats when money was tight, the sort of pride Ramona took in the family’s efforts to save money. Does anyone remember the scene where she tells some random stranger, “We have to scrimp and pinch to make ends meet,” having heard it over and over from her parents?

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

@Taylor It’s while they’re waiting for Beezus to get her terrible haircut! And then Ramona gets her cute haircut because one of the stylists offers to do it for free. (Also, implied, because Ramona is causing a bit of a fuss in the waiting area.)

Bonnie St. Clair (#2,949)

The main thing I vividly remember from reading the Ramona books is the scene when the family is eating dinner and Ramona finds out that the “bumpy” meat they’re eating is cow’s tongue, and her mom tries to explain to her that they’re eating it because it’s more affordable. I found a lot of meats gross when I was a kid and just remember being horrified by the possibility of eating tongue, ha.

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

You all know that PBS did a Ramona series in the 1980s, right? A very, very, very young Sarah Polley played Ramona. You can look it up on YouTube.

Taylor (#1,339)

@HelloTheFuture Yes! That had perfect casting. All of them, even the ones who did not grow up to be Sarah Polley.

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