I’ll be very honest: my first thought for Jo, the main character from Kate Walbert’s His Favorites was the archetype of The Victim. This thought lasted about one minute, after my googling’s showed me that there are connotations to this archetype that I really do not like, mainly the implication that someone is “playing the victim” so they can garner sympathy. It hit me while reading this that Jo isn’t The Victim. She’s The Survivor.

“Perfecting” the Story

Throughout her telling of the story of her sexual assault by Master, Jo is focused on grammar, verb tense, sentence structure. This speaks of the ways in which Master has gotten into her head, and remains there, even so many years later, as Master had often said to not “live your life in the subjunctive mood” (Walbert 73). Jo uses the subjunctive mood. She switches between tenses seemingly at random. She talks about wanting to stop the story at a certain point, as if by stopping the retelling, she can stop it from having happened. She wants to take control of her narrative. She’s telling it to a detective, but she does not want to give them just the facts. Jo wants to tell her story her way, even if that involves tangents and too many details and lots and lots of the subjunctive mood.

It is telling that even after Master has got it in her head that using the subjunctive is bad, Jo still begins and ends her story with it. Master has gotten into her head. He has violated her, and she can never forget about it, even so many years later. But she is finally telling her side of the story, the first time since she told the headmaster of her school and had him dismiss her entirely. And she is telling the story in her way. She will never forget, but she has survived. And if she wants to use the subjunctive mood, she will use the subjunctive mood.

One Last Thought

Here’s a link to a short review of His Favorites. It also talks about two other novels that may be of interest to anyone that liked this one. These books are very much post- #MeToo stories. In today’s world, these are exactly the kind of books that we need.

2 thoughts on “The Survivor

  1. I love the way you went about giving Jo the archetype of being a survivor and not a victim. I feel that she sees herself as a disappointment/helpless/submissive when it came to the death of Stephanie and also feeling stupid about getting caught up with Master. I didn’t even think about Jo wanting to stop the retelling because she finally wanted to be in charged of her own narrative and story. I hadn’t even notice the changed in grammar of Jo from time to time signaling how Master still has some sort of mind control over her. Great job!

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  2. I really appreciated your distinction between a victim and a survivor. I also found it interesting (although not necessarily surprising) that the victim archetype had misogynistic aspects like projecting the trauma onto yourself and exaggerating the situation.

    Your point about the subjunctive mood made me laugh but it is also worth noting that the subjunctive mood can be used in order to give a command, something that Master is doing when he instructs Jo not to use it.

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