September 23, 2000
Explore the similarities between Dru’s decision regarding college and Mike and jumping the Nail.
In Jumping the Nail Eve Bunting weaves together two plot threads that comment on the importance of following one’s own values and desires rather than surrendering to the whims of others. The first plot thread deals with Elisa jumping the Nail, and the second plot thread deals with Dru and her plans for going away to college in the fall. By using parallel symbolism and characterization in both plots Bunting reinforces her theme that no person should have complete control over another.
Early in the novel, Bunting makes symbolic comparisons between the water below the Nail—the Deep—and Mike’s home, El Nido. The Deep is always described as dark and ominous: “There was no lightening the dark, no sparkle of sun on water” (33). Although Bunting describes the Deep as forbiddingly dark, she also gives it a tinge of mystery and seduction by making it the setting of a romantic tragedy. Two lovers are supposed to be lying at the bottom of the deep, still trapped in their car, and at low tide one might be able to see a red shimmer from the submerged vehicle.
El Nido is also described as seductive. As Dru looks up at El Nido, perched high on the cliff, she sees that the windows are “dark and shining” (5). El Nido, which means “nest,” shines seductively and represents, at least to Dru’s mother, the ultimate nest-egg—power, position, and security. However, this nest-egg echoes the dangers found at the bottom of the Deep. The windows are dark, and the cliff that supports El Nido is often compared to the Nail. Dru muses, “Was their (the Moriarty’s) cliff as high as the Nail . . . ” (7)? And later, when Dru’s family has dinner with the Moriarty’s, Mike comments, “Do you know the top of the Nail is almost this high” (151)?
This comparison between the Nail and El Nido plays an important role in the novel, especially in the plot involving Dru and her college plans, because the seductive, dangerous house represents a giant leap into eternal dependence. If Dru listens to her mother and Mike and decides not to go to Northwestern in Chicago, she will betray her deepest desire to make her own life-choices. She will become like Elisa, who, in her plot thread, has squelched her better judgment and jumped the Nail with Scooter. In effect, Elisa has become dependent on Scooter to make decisions for her. Dru, although seduced by the nest-egg on the hill and the thought of being with Mike, refuses to take the plunge to the top of the cliff.
Throughout the novel, Bunting makes obvious comparisons between Dru and Elisa’s characters. Both Dru and Elisa become members of the “in-crowd” through their relationships with their boyfriends, both feel threatened by other girls who may take their boyfriends away, and both are in love. Because of their deep feelings for their boyfriends, Dru and Elisa are driven by the need to please the object of their affection. This need to please manifests differently in the two plots. For Elisa, jumping the Nail is the way to please Scooter and to prove her love. Elisa tells Dru that “there are things to prove” (26), and after the jump Scooter does look at the Elisa “so tenderly, so lovingly” (39). But Scooter’s affection does not last in spite of Elisa’s attempts to please him. His disgust mounts as she struggles to deal with the terror of having jumped.
For Dru, staying in La Paloma is the way to please Mike. After seeing how his father regretted losing Dru’s mother, Connie, Mike feels compelled to urge Dru to stay with him instead of going away to Chicago: “Stay here. Stay with me. Come to San Diego State. It’s a great school” (96). Mike’s words (“stay with me”) echo the words Elisa hears from the “drowned girl” who wants Elisa to keep her company in the Deep. Fortunately, Dru recognizes the words as the dreaded call of the siren and resists them. Dru tells Mike, “You’re asking me to jump. Think about it, Mike. There are all kinds of jumps” (153). At once, Mike realizes he is pressuring Dru to live a life that goes against her greatest dreams and stops his pleas. It is Dru’s strength of character that allows her to stand up to Mike in this scene and to her mother in next scene. Elisa never had this strength. Being the child of a single parent, struggling with depression, and living in a poor neighborhood, Elisa easily fell prey to Scooter’s flamboyant style. Elisa wanted to belong, and she wanted to be loved. She didn’t understand that she needed to respect herself, to love herself first.
The two plots that Bunting presents, that of Dru going to college and Elisa jumping the Nail, illustrate the difference between being in control of your own life and letting others be in control for you.