During class this week we have been discussing Will Eisner’s Contract with God, which some would say is the first true graphic novel. Through illustration we were taking through four stories that take place in an American city during the Great Depression. I also is a commentary about how people with different characters react to the things thrown their way during this time of hardship. Eisner also makes us really think as readers because he gives his characters a since of moral ambiguity, or gray area.
We spoke at length about this during class with the “Street Singer” and “The Super”. To me the “Street Singer” did not really have moral ambiguity. Sure perhaps before the depression he might have been an honest man and a good husband but we only see what the present of this story looks like. “The Street Singer” to me is more of a story of addiction rather during poverty , than moral gray areas. The singer in this part of his life is to me a bad and manipulating man. Eisner constructed the story so at the begging we feel pity or sorrow for the man singing for money in the tenement alleys. You feel a little hopeful for him that he finds someone who wants to help him move forward in his musical career. Even though the Madame willing to help him does come off at first as someone out for her own gain.
However as the story continues we find out that she isn’t the manipulative figure in this story. She is just a lonely women, looking for someone to pay her a little attention. The singer himself is the evil figure. Addicted to drink the man spends the Madame who is willing to help him on bottles of alcohol and take them home with him, where is pregnant wife and baby are starving and cold. From his wife we find the hint that the singer at one point might have been a good man at one time, but poverty and addiction has destroyed him. He, and sadly both his wife and children, are locked in a cycle of abuse, manipulation and destruction. The singer could break the cycle by stopping his singing and look for an actual job, but he is to engrossed because the singing feeds his addiction.
As for “The Super” there are definitely lots of characters with moral gray areas. The main characters showing this trait would be the Super and the little girl, Rosie. Eisner uses his drawing skills to highly characterize the Super. When the people of the tenement look at him or we look at him through their eyes he is hard and cruel, however when he is by himself he is drawn softer, like this is his true self. The same goes for the girl, Rosie, whenever the Super sees her she is drawn more sexualized, making you think she is more mature than she really is. Whenever the other tenants look at her they see a doll like child. They are exact opposites of each other when the view point changes.
Both have big character flaws. The Super is lonely, with only his dog, and he is so consumed by this when propositioned by Rosie, he forgets morality and gives in. For Rosie we wonder what could happen to such a little girl, we find out she is only ten, for her to act the way she does. She not only seduces the super, she poisons his dog and steals his money. It’s this chain of events that turns the Super into the monster everyone already thinks he is, ending in tragedy all around. The ending leaves us with several questions. Was Rosie the mastermind of all this or was she prompted? Also is Eisner trying to have us decide what is the worse sin, lust of the body or lust of money?