Teenage Wasteland: Summary & Analysis

Teenage Wasteland: Summary & Analysis
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Tierney Porter Mosley
This is a summary and analysis of Anne Tyler's short story, 'Teenage Wasteland.' The story focuses on the strained relationship between a teenage boy and his parents.

Title Analysis and Plot Summary

Anne Tyler's 1983 short story, 'Teenage Wasteland' focuses on the relationship between teens and parents, and how it can sometimes seem like the two of them are coming from different worlds. They just don't understand each other.

Tyler named this story after a song entitled 'Baba O'Riley' by The Who. The song was released in 1971 and has the words 'teenage wasteland' repeated several times throughout. The song also shares a theme of adolescent growth with the original short story.

'Teenage Wasteland' follows Daisy Coble, a former teacher turned frumpy housewife, and her 15-year-old son, Donny Coble. Donny is unmotivated, makes bad grades, and struggles to find his place at school and in his home. His father, Matt Coble, is described as a tall insurance salesman who is absent from the home.

Daisy is called to the school for Donny's poor academic performance. After berating herself for bad parenting, Daisy agrees to monitor Donny more closely. His grades begin to improve. However, Donny soon begins to act out at school by smoking, drinking, and skipping class. His principal, Mr. Lantham, thinks it would help if Donny saw a psychologist.

After seeing the psychologist, it's determined that Donny does not have any emotional issues. Instead, his parents decide he needs a tutor. The tutor, Cal Beadle, begins to work with Donny three days a week. Donny actually enjoys spending time with Cal. This is his first real connection to an adult. Although his grades do not improve, his behavior does. He even meets a new, strange girlfriend, Miriam. Tutoring is going so well, Daisy gives Cal the power to address all of Donny's school concerns.

Daisy is eventually contacted by one of Donny's concerned teachers. Donny is failing all of his classes. Daisy addresses the concerns with Cal, who dismisses the school as unfair towards Donny.

In the spring, Donny is expelled from school after beer and cigarettes are found in his locker. Instead of walking home, Donny goes straight to Cal's. Daisy goes to Cal's to discuss the situation with both of them. Once again, Cal blames it on the school and the adults who don't trust Donny.

Daisy decides it's best to discontinue tutoring and send Donny to public school. While there, Donny doesn't make any friends, completes all his assignments, makes average grades, and attends school faithfully. This is the perfect situation, right? Wrong. After a couple of months at his new school, Donny disappears. His parents search everywhere. They even question his favorite tutor, Cal, and his strange girlfriend, Miriam. Surprisingly, they have no idea where he may be. Donny is never heard from again. His parents are left to wonder what happened to Donny.

Text Analysis

Let's take a closer look at this text and see if we can analyze it.

Anne Tyler's 'Teenage Wasteland' focuses on the destruction of the relationship between a misunderstood boy and his clueless parents. The story is told in the limited omniscient point of view. We know everything from Daisy's perspective. There is very little information on the thoughts of the other characters - we only see their actions. From the beginning, we assume the story will be primarily about Daisy, the protagonist, but instead, we find that it is more about Donny, the antagonist.

Throughout the story, Tyler assigns a lot of imagery to the important characters. For instance, we are quickly able to make a connection between Cal and Donny based on the descriptions of their appearance.

Tyler also uses imagery to explain the title of the story, 'Teenage Wasteland.' Leading up to the climax of the story, Donny's parents go to pick him up from Cal's. As they pull up, the song 'Baba O'Riley' is playing loudly, and students are sitting around outside, shooting basketball, and looking like hoodlums. Daisy murmurs, 'teenage wasteland,' which is a metaphor to describe the place where teenagers go to waste their life and their time.

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