The Parental Conflict in Turtle Moon
For the average person, occasional inter-personal conflicts are a fact of life. Nowhere do these conflicts manifest themselves with greater tension than in the parent-adolescent relationship. Through their works, writers of fiction illuminate the sources of strain common to parent-child interactions. In the novel Turtle Moon, Alice Hoffman exemplifies this conflict in the relationship between Keith Rosen and his mother Lucy. There are several factors that contribute to this conflict and the work as a whole. The strife between Keith and his mother results from Keiths desire to live in New York with his father, the lack of parental involvement, and the lack of communication between Keith and his mother.
The discord between Keith and his mother results from his preference to live with his father in New York. Keith has no choice in the decision and now he lives in Verity, a town he hates. This situation lies at the root of his rebellion against his mother. When he lives in New York he is never particularly well behaved, but after eight months in Florida, he is horrid(5). Through his rebellious actions Keith generates grief and worry in his mother Lucy. His backpack must be checked for contraband everyday(31), and he and his mother fight constantly. Because he is forced to live with his mother, Keith resents her. Keith is angry with Lucy because he feels as if he is trapped in Verity. He wanted to live with his father, but who asked him?(6). Keith deliberately disobeys Lucy and has no respect for her. He counts down the days until he can go back to New York and this ignites many arguments between them. Keiths rebellious actions advance the novels theme of searching for identity and independence.
In addition to living in Verity, another source of the conflict between Keith and Lucy is her lack of parental involvement. Lucy and Keith grow more and more distant from each other because Lucy stays out of Keiths life. In the same way Keith avoids his mother at every
available opportunity. He waits in bed until hes sure shes left, so he wont have to see her and pretend to be normal or cheerful or whatever it is she wants him to be(6).Because Lucy does
not involve herself in Keiths life she wonders what he is doing and tends to assume the worst about him. She accuses Keith of going to Burger King without so much as asking if he did. This makes Keith defensive and sparks yet another argument. In order to gain his own sense of identity and independence, Keith isolates himself from his mother, causing friction when they interact. To sidestep an argument, they stay out of each others way and live their own lives.
Due to friction and isolation in their relationship, Keith and Lucy have trouble communicating. They cant tell each other what they are feeling and this results in several misunderstandings. For example, when Lucy discovers the alligator in Keiths bag, she completely misses Keiths purpose for saving the alligator. She becomes angry instead of viewing it as an act of kindness. When the alligator dies, the short, one-word exchanges between them point to their inability to either hear or to listen to one anothers deepest feelings. This breeds resentment and mistrust, so that when Keith takes off with the baby, Lucy fears the worst. At the end of the novel they cant even communicate their feelings for each other as Keith leaves. Lucy hugs him quickly, then, before he can pull away from her, she lets him go(282). At Keiths departure he finally achieves the sense of identity and independence he searches for throughout the novel.
In Turtle Moon the parental conflict between Keith and Lucy flows from the resentment Keith feels toward Lucy. They are unable to resolve the conflict by the end of the novel because they have not communicated their feelings to each other. Keith and Lucy contribute equally to the discord that abides in their lives. Their conflicts propel the story on an exhilarating journey in which both Lucy and Keith discover their true identity.
Hoffman, Alice. Turtle Moon. New York: Berkley Books, 1992.