An analysis of Will Eisner’s “The Super”

 

Eisner, Will. "The Super." A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Eisner, Will. “The Super.” A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

I¬†would like to focus on “The Super,” a short story in Will Eisner’s graphic novel, “A Contract with God.” As I talk to different people about this story, I am consistently surprised that most people do not realize that the real villain in this tale is the little girl, Rosie. It is at this point, before I begin my argument that I must explain that I am not actually saying that the character of Scruggs was a good person, because he is not. I am not going to defend him. I am not taking his side because he is a male character, and I myself am a male. I do not, and cannot identify myself with that character in any manner. As an individual, he is set apart and deeply despised by the tenants of 55 Dropsie Ave. He is a foul and disgusting man of morally low character. He is anti-Semitic and seemingly uses his position of meager importance to lord over the people to whom he is responsible. Lastly, and probably most important, he is clearly a pedophile. However, these facts do not alter the truth that the Rosie is the true antagonist.

Let us just consider what we see when we examine her actions in the story. When Scruggs first encounters her in her apartment, it is obvious to everyone that he is clearly enamored with her as she stands there wearing only a towel. She allows him to continue his awkward leering, and even goes so far as to stand in the doorway as he is walking down the staircase. It is at this point that she begins to formulate her malicious plan. The story continues to follow Scruggs down into his basement bedroom; we are shown pictures of naked women nailed to every available wall space. However, before he begins to drink himself into a lust-filled stupor, he lovingly feeds his only companion, his enormous scary looking dog.

It is here, as detectives, that we have to assume Rosie got dressed with the aim to visit Scruggs in his room, at the same time she coolly prepared a poisoned candy for the dog. Ultimately, her entire plan consisted of first, pretend to be childlike and play on his loneliness and perversion to lower his guard. Second, innocently offer the poison food to the dog. Third, steal his moneybox when his back is turned. Lastly, she planned the escape route so she could lead him into the alley between the tenements where she was sure he would follow. Once there, she knew the perception of his hulking figuring threatening physical violence to her tiny, prepubescent body, in front of all her neighbors, would provide a powerful image and that popular opinion would take over, quickly. Each step was cold and calculated, and the premeditation of bringing the poison clearly shows intent.

However, what happens next is extremely interesting. As he walks from the alley in shame, while being chided as a murderer, animal and sex maniac, he proceeds straight to the building’s boiler room. Where, in what would be one of his finally acts, performs maintenance on the pipes, fills the boiler with coal and turns the hot water pressure up. In the end, giving each of his tenants what they most likely complained about the most. From there, with the police en route, he barricades himself inside his room and mourns the death of his only friend before ultimately committing suicide when faced with prison.

As despicable as Scruggs was, he did not deserve that fate. That little girl orchestrated each of those events. I will even go so far as to say that between the two of them she was the savvier than the adult or the more intelligent one, however you want to say that. To further that point, all a reader has to do is look at the next to last frame of the story. As she sits on the front stoop, humming to herself while she counts the money that she just stole. Clearly, no remorse in the role she played concerning the death of another human being.

 

  2 comments for “An analysis of Will Eisner’s “The Super”

  1. October 12, 2015 at 10:53 am

    This is such an interesting story for the different readings it leads to, and the subsequent discussions we ended up having that relate to the morality of the two principle characters are fascinating for how they force us to interrogate this text for its possible meanings. For my part, where my goal is to try and steer us toward thinking about comic art and narrative, this is great because we wind up using different kinds of textual evidence to make an argument for either of the main two interpretations of this story. But on the other hand, as someone who loves Will Eisner’s work, I find this story tricky because my own reading of it inevitably leads me to think less charitably of Eisner’s approach to this story. Let me try and explain.

    As you’ve written and described the story here, you’re absolutely right. Rosie is clearly the antagonist: she seemed to plan this all from the beginning and carried out to an outcome that she clearly benefits from. Within the logic of the terms set out by the story, and with a twist typical of the parable-like storytelling of a Twilight Zone episode, we find out that the young, apparently innocent girl is actually not so innocent. And at the same time, the fact that we can come to view the Super sympathetically even though he’s obviously a creep is a testament to the power of good storytelling.

    What’s troubling about that, though, is that in order for the Super to turn out to be actually more complicated than he first seems, Eisner can’t give Rosie the same complexity. That is, if they were both morally complex, realistic characters, I don’t think we would feel so strongly about the outcome — it might, this hypothetically more realistic and necessarily longer version of the story, invoke our pathos, but it wouldn’t have the same sense of tragedy that the actual story does.

    That Rosie becomes a caricature, then, is something we have to look at as a strategic decision, where her apparent sense of sexuality isn’t something that (in the real world) would likely be the consequence of prior sexual abuse, deprives her of agency in this story. This fits into a pattern that most of the women in the Contract stories fall into, where men get to be complicated and nuanced, but women simply act “like women usually act” according to a few stereotypes.

    On the one hand, I don’t mind that Eisner, as a jewish man, is writing stories from a jewish man’s perspective. It’s troubling, though, when part of the stereotype he uses — and stereotypes are definitely useful — normalize the sexualizing of 10-year old girl in a way that the story doesn’t slow down to consider. Eisner chooses to draw Rosie in a sexy way, for example. Maybe this is to show us how she looks to the Super, but she still looks that way to us as we read the book.

    Many of us in class talked about how jarringly different the “versions” of Rosie are, and I think this is a way of recognizing the contingency of her representation vis a vis the Super’s point of view on her.

    Anyway, I could go on, but the bottom line, Dr. Kenneth, is that I think you’re right on about the role she plays in the story, but I’m not sure that understanding that role encompasses what she means in the broader sense.

    • Dr.KennethNoiseWater
      October 16, 2015 at 10:32 am

      Thanks for your feedback. I agree with you, in that if we the reader had received more character development with Rosie, people’s perceptions would have made this a very different story. Along those lines, we do not come into this world as malicious beings, we are not an inherently evil species. What drives that stems from the environment we are exposed to, and the experiences we have from adolescence. An example of that can be found with in the young man that walked into a South Carolina Methodist Episcopal Church and opened fire on a Bible study group. His backstory is that he was raised in an environment of intense hatred and intolerance of other ethnic groups, I won’t use the word “minorities,” and that is how he became the man he is today.

      That being said, yes, “something” happened to make Rosie, at the age of ten, what she is in this story. We, you and I, and the rest of the world just don’t know what that is. And, again, knowing her story would change a lot. Also, we should consider a point that was not addressed in class, but is extremely relevant.That is, Rosie is the only strong female character in “A Contract With God.” She gets the better of her male contemporary, as the other female characters fall into, to use your word, the “stereotype,” (from that time in America) of being seemingly disposable to their male counterparts. So, I am not sure that point is completely accurate, as Rosie is not acting “like women usually act according to a few stereotypes,” again, from that time.

      I, like, you could seemingly go on as well, but the fact is we will never understand Rosie’s role in the broader sense. Sadly, she was not written that way. All we can do is, in this case, is simply critically analyze this story in the way that Mr. Eisner wrote it.

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