Before Reading This Section:
- If this was your sentence (“don’t let this touch you”), what could the “this” be? How can you name things without naming them?
Don't let what people do to you change you.
After Reading This Section:
- The portrayal of sexual abuse, especially in such a visual medium, can be difficult. How does Jeff Lemire convey it in a way that is terrifying, yet sensitive?
The eyes!!! and just a suggestive panel showing the zipper of the father. The experienced mind will understand what that represents.
The "this" is the section really can refer to a physical "this" or a more psychological or emotional "this". For me it would mean the "this" of trauma, the "this" of emotional scarring and damage that comes with abuse. Many victims of abuse will explain how they have gone to another place in their minds while being abused - this reminds me of some parts of "Playing with Fire" where Theoren Fleury explains his experiences of abuse. If you can go to another place in your mind, "this" can't touch you. I feel like you can name things without naming them when the context is easy to decipher. When the situation is familiar to the audience you can say things like "you know"... in place of a real explanation. In fact, it almost seems a little more tactful at times (We went out for dinner and drinks. Afterwards he invited me upstairs and, you know... (see how you understand what "you know" meant!). The context we are presented here is familiar. We can easily infer what "this" might be, because of the scene Lemire presents us with. We can name things without naming them in shared, familiar contexts.
Lemire uses our own understanding and imaginations of how things might have been for Chanie and the boys in the school to drive the message in his visuals. The movement from the outside, to dormitory, to the teacher/priest standing in the doorway, staring in at Chanie - there's something extra terrible about a dark figure standing in a half-lit doorway while you are trying to sleep, the stuff of horror films. Then the images get a lot clearer, yet Lemire still leaves you to infer. Walking into the dormitory, stopping at Chanie's bed. Essentially there are four panels where all the teacher/priest is doing is standing at Chanie's bed but the realization of why he is there and the message you receive from Chanie's eyes, the belt buckle, the "don't touch me" expression, and then the outreached hand. You clearly understand what is happening.
The last page is particularly powerful as Chanie's expression seems angry and the only other time he really looks angry, as opposed to a variety of other emotions we see expressed on his face, is when he decides to throw away the map that he can't really use since he can't really read it. The hand reaching for him still, in the clouds as he walks away, is a reminder of how abuse spans over time and space and continues to chase and traumatize its victims as it is doing for Chanie in this last illustration of the section.
‘This’ can refer to any horror that a person must endure, whether it is emotional or physical, or the two together. For Chanie those horrors must have included loneliness, cruelty, deprivation, the imposition of Christianity on his value system and beliefs and sexual abuse. In an article on the CBC website, the events that happened at the institution where he was sent are chronicled:
Recently released documents reveal that aboriginal children who were sent to Cecilia Jeffrey were subjected to experimental treatments for ear infections, as well as nutritional and dental experiments that were recently highlighted by a food historian.
In the 1940s and '50s, research on the effectiveness of vitamin supplements was carried out — with the federal government's knowledge — on malnourished aboriginal people, including children at Cecilia Jeffrey and five other residential schools across Canada. According to the research by Canadian food historian Ian Mosby, subjects were kept on starvation-level diets and given or denied vitamins, minerals and certain foods. Some dental services were also withheld because researchers thought healthier teeth and gums might skew the results, Mosby found.
It is astonishing and deeply disturbing that the kinds of atrocities we generally associate with Nazi Germany happened so recently on our watch. How truly horrible that our freshly re-imagined flag, along with all the optimism, identity and unity it was supposed to represent, flew over that place.
The portrayal of sexual abuse is made more powerful by leaving it to the reader’s imagination. In that way we can project our own feelings into the scene. The light falling across Chanie’s bed, the partial views of the faceless attacker, Chanie’s eyes growing wide and then tightly closed, his face twisted in pain, the outstretched hand, perhaps trying to ward off advances or reaching out to a defender who never arrives…all of these images build tension and fear without having to be explicit.