Saturday, August 27, 2005

slacktivist: Takes Note of Left Behind

L.B.: Narcissus reflects

Left Behind, pp. 142 - 144

Our narcissistic friend Rayford at last takes a long look in the mirror.

I mean "narcissistic" in the clinical sense, as in NPD, the description of which reads like Cliff Notes character summary for Rayford Steele:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)

2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

3. believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

4. requires excessive admiration

5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

7. lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

These final pages of Chapter 8 are a continuation of Rayford's dark night of the soul. LaHaye and Jenkins do allow their hero a few kernels of self-awareness here, but even these quickly slide back into self-obsession.

We begin with Rayford deciding that this was "the worst season of his life." He remembers the death of his parents, but decides that this experience is worse:

Rayford had grieved in a way, but mostly he was just sentimental about them. He had good memories, he appreciated the kindness and sympathy he received at their funerals, and he got on with his life. Whatever tears he shed were not from remorse or heartache. He felt primarily nostalgic and melancholy.

The rest of his life had been without complication or pain.

The subject and object of that entire passage is Rayford and only Rayford. We don't know anything more about his parents as people and we don't learn much of anything about their deaths other than his feelings about how their deaths affected his feelings. It rings true as a description of detachment, but is itself just as detached.

This occurs in a section in which Rayford is supposed to be hitting a kind of spiritual rock bottom, where he's supposed to be realizing his own selfishness and sinfulness and need for salvation. Somehow, though, he always seems to be confessing sins other than the actual ones he should be.

There follows a short Rayford's-eye summary of his painless, uncomplicated life until the present. Here's his description of becoming a pilot:

He came through the ranks in the usual way -- military reserve duty, small planes, then bigger ones, then jets and fighters. Finally he had reached the pinnacle.

The pinnacle? He's not flying the space shuttle, or landing an F-14 on an aircraft carrier. (See, again, No. 1 above.)

Rayford met his future wife in college:

They were married when Rayford was a senior in college and Irene a sophomore. She dropped out when he went into the military, and everything had been on schedule since. They had Chloe during their first year of marriage but, due to complications, waited another eight years for Ray Jr. Rayford was thrilled with both children, but he had to admit he had longed for a namesake boy.

So here's a question for all the young ladies in the church youth group: What have we learned today about the role and place of women?

Irene Steele is L&J's notion of an ideal woman. She is pious and submissive, with no personal ambition beyond getting her MRS degree and then attending to the needs of her husband. This is the ideal of womanhood promoted by Tim LaHaye's wife, Beverly, and her advocacy group, Ladies Against Women Concerned Women for America.

I'm not sure that women such as Irene Steele really exist, but if they did, they would be caught in a vicious Catch-22. Their only ambition is to marry a good man. But the kinds of men who would be interested in marrying them -- the kinds of men who are attracted to servility, who need others to "submit" to their will -- are not good men.

As Rayford begins remembering the next phase of his life -- the "most trying time" in his marriage -- he first lays out his excuses:

Unfortunately, Raymie came along during a bleak period for Rayford. He was 30 and feeling older, and he didn't enjoy having a pregnant wife. Many people thought, because of his premature but not unattractive gray hair, that he was older, and so he endured the jokes about being an old father. It was a particularly difficult pregnancy for Irene, and Raymie was a couple of weeks late. Chloe was a spirited 8-year-old, so Rayford disengaged as much as possible.

I can't quite follow the logic of that last sentence. Rayford had a lively young daughter, "so" -- therefore -- he disengaged as much as possible. Wha-hunh?

The point of view here is third-person sympathetic -- it's Jenkins talking, but offering Rayford's perspective. So it's tough to know what to make of that observation about Rayford's "not unattractive" gray hair. Is it intended to be read as a glimpse of the character's clownish vanity? While it's clear that Rayford is clownishly vain, it also seems that the authors are as blissfully unaware of his vanity as the character himself. My guess, then, is that this is Jenkins lurching in and out of his chosen POV in order to reassure readers that the protagonist's gray hair does not diminish his manly good looks. (And keeping in mind that Rayford seems to function as Tim LaHaye's Mary-Sue substitute, we can guess which of our coauthors insisted on including this reassurance.)

He was frequently late getting home and at times even fibbed about his schedule so he could leave a day early or come back a day late. Irene accused him of all manner of affairs, and because she was wrong, he denied them with great vigor and, he felt, justified anger.

The truth was, he was hoping for and angling for just what she was charging. What frustrated him so was that, despite his looks and bearing, it just wasn't in him to pull it off. He didn't have the moves, the patter, the style. ...

Oh yeah, LaHaye and Jenkins know what the ladies want. They want "the moves, the patter, the style ..." They make it sound like all Steele needed to do was listen to Billy Dee ("Colt 45. Works every time").

Despite the pseudo-confessional tone of this passage, Rayford never comes to grips with what seems the likelier explanation for his inability to "pull it off": He doesn't like women. I don't mean that he likes men -- I'm sure he's 100% heterosexual (not that there's anything wrong with that). He just simply doesn't like women. Some misogynists get their kicks by using, and discarding, women, but Rayford seems to be the variety that can't even bring himself to touch one. Consider the sentences that immediately follow the passage above:

Sure, he had access to any woman with a price, but that was beneath him. While he toyed with and hoped for an old-fashioned affair, he somehow couldn't bring himself to stoop to something as tawdry as paying for sex.

It's not really the idea of paying for sex that Rayford finds "tawdry" and "beneath him." It's the women he would have been paying. And it's not because of the money, or because of the sex, but just because they're women.

I can't decide at this point which would be worse: To allow your daughter to read this book, or to allow your son to.

READ ON

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