Friday, October 28, 2011

Wallace Wells: Old Man Archetype

The following is the very rough first draft of a research essay I am writing on Wallace Wells. There are several problems with it, as it is very rough and mostly unedited. Problems include: Missing transitions, not enough outside sources, and having possibly too much summary without enough analysis to balance it. This paper was written to prove that Wallace Wells is a perfect example of the literary Wise Old Man archetype and as a personal exercise in arguing from the text of a work. The fact that I've attempted to write two sort of scholarly papers on Scott Pilgrim also I hope elevates it to a little larger level of importance and relevance in the study of contemporary literature.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Wallace Wells: Spiritual Guide (First DRAFT)

Carl Jung was a psychologist who studied personality and the importance of symbols to human beings. In his studies, he identified archetypes, ideas and images that he thought to be a part of the collective unconscious, meaning they were present in the minds of every individual human being (“archetype def. 6). One of the most notable archetypes in literature is that of the Wise Old Man. The Wise Old Man usually appears as an older, respectable person such as a grandfather, doctor, king, or teacher. The Wise Old Man offers spiritual wisdom and guidance to the hero’s journey. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim graphic novel series follows the title character’s path to and adulthood. Wallace Wells is not only Scott Pilgrim’s “cool gay roommate,” but also his guide in his path to maturity, falling perfectly into Jung’s Wise Old Man archetype.

Wallace Wells is introduced in the short and humorous second scene of Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life in which he teases Scott about his new girlfriend with clever one liners such as “Is he cute?” and “Does this mean we have to stop sleeping together?” (12-13). This establishes him as a likable supporting character in the narrative. Only a few pages later, Wallace warns the 23 year old Scott about dating a 17 year old girl, Knives Chau. He then tells Knives that she is “too good for him,” indicating that he knows Scott well enough to know that due to his level of maturity and desire for an easy relationship, he will not take the relationship seriously (27-29). These two scenes capture the essence of Wallace: He is clever, insightful, wise, and Scott’s moral guide. According to the list of archetypal characters on the Attleboro Public Schools’ website, these are the exact qualities of the Wise Old Man (6). Wallace is usually absent living his own life for most of the action in the series, appearing when Scott needs guidance. This is also true of other examples of the Wise Old Man archetype in literature and film, such as Star Wars’ Yoda or The Hobbit’s Gandalf.

Wallace appears again later in the first novel to guide Scott after Scott has his first date with Ramona Flowers, the girl of his dreams that he has recently met. He has, however, neglected to break up with Knives. Wallace knows that this is a very serious problem, and encourages Scott multiple times to do it. Scott knows that Wallace is right to tell him so. This is shown to be true when Wallace says “You should break up with your fake high school girlfriend, Scott,” because when Scott tries to argue against him, Wallace simply repeats exactly his previous statement once and Scott replies with “Yeah... I know” (Precious Little Life 107). Scott continues to date both Knives and Ramona into the second book, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Wallace appears once again in a scene on a bus with Scott. Wallace decides to give Scott an ultimatum in this scene: If Scott does not break up with Knives that night, Wallace will tell her about Ramona. After giving Scott this ultimatum, Wallace kicks him out, saying that he is “having a friend over tonight” and telling Scott to go home (40-41). This is another moment in which Wallace is guiding Scott. He knows that Scott must break up with Knives in order to move further in his journey to adulthood, and so he continues to push Scott to do what he needs to do. Wallace then steps off the bus and disappears again. Only six pages after Wallace departs, Scott takes his advice.

Scott must defeat Ramona’s seven evil ex-boyfriends on his path to maturity and true love. Wallace is present at the first three fights and has been Scott’s roommate the entire time, always there to give him support and guidance and information when his band plays or when he gets into a fight, and always there to guide him when he’s timid about doing what he must. One of the things that Scott must do eventually is tell Ramona that he loves her, and Wallace is of course the one to suggest that he does (Gets It Together 20). This is a shift in the narrative and a turning point for Scott, with Wallace as a driving force behind this change. Wallace begins to push Scott away from his dependence on him and further along in his developing relationship with Ramona. About halfway through Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together, Wallace suggests that Scott consider his “options” concerning his living arrangements. The lease on their apartment is about to run out, and Wallace wants Scott to consider moving in with Ramona, since he cannot yet support himself completely on his own (101). The next fight is with Roxie Richter, the fourth opponent Scott must face, and he faces her with the help of Ramona. This is the halfway point for the amount of fights Scott must win and roughly the halfway point of the series. This is significant because this is when the shift is happening. Wallace is guiding Scott into the second half of his journey, which requires him to begin to support himself and begin to be a responsible and supportive boyfriend. Wallace vanishes for the most part after the fight with Roxie Richter. Ramona takes his place as Scott’s loving friend and partner. Wallace only appears in the fifth book, Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe, when Scott is unable to stay at Ramona’s apartment. This happens once in the beginning of the novel when Ramona decides she needs space (60), and when he is locked out after Ramona evanesces (146). 

Scott has already hit rock bottom in the opening scene of the final book, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour, and Wallace visits him one final time to offer guidance. Scott is living on a friend’s couch, playing video games all day. Wallace knows that in order to move on, Scott must pick himself up and realize that he must fight Gideon eventually. Even though Ramona has left Scott, Wallace knows that he needs to finish his fight. Wallace tells Scott to go out and have fun and forget about Ramona for the moment, because it is what he needs to get his spirits up and move into the final stage of his journey (9-13). When Scott has finally proven himself able to go outside and talk about his problems, Wallace literally pushes him onto a bus that will take him to what Wallace calls a “wilderness sabatical” with Kim Pine, Scott’s caring friend and ex-girlfriend. This is very significant to Scott’s journey, because this is Wallace guiding Scott to the most important part of his journey and proving that Wallace is truly the source of wisdom and guidance that allows Scott to succeed. The wilderness is where Scott resolves tension between himself and Kim and most importantly fights the Negascott, a physical manifestation of his own inner demons. Scott comes out of this fight as a responsible adult, ready to defeat his final opponent.

Every single scene in which Wallace takes a significant speaking role portrays him as a wise, clever, and humorous guide. He gives Scott information about his opponents and trains him to fight them (vs. The World 76), gives him instructions regarding what he needs to do next, and provides the right environment Scott needs at the exact times he needs them. When Wallace has set the stage for the hero’s success, he steps back and allows him to grow, appearing again when more guidance is required to grow further. Wallace completely embodies Jung’s Wise Old Man archetype. He may not have grey hair, but Wallace Wells is two years older than Scott (Precious Little Life 12), and he undoubtedly fits the archetype. He is a perfect example of why graphic literature and more specifically Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series is worth studying and analyzing.

Works Cited

“archetype.” The American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.
Third Edition, 2005. Web. 27 October 2011.

“Archetypes.” Attleboro Public Schools, n.d. Web. 27 October 2011.
O’Malley, Bryan Lee. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life. Portland, OR: Oni Press, 2004. Print.
    Vol. 1 of Scott Pilgrim.

O’Malley, Bryan Lee. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Portland, OR: Oni Press, 2005. Print.
    Vol. 2 of Scott Pilgrim.

O’Malley, Bryan Lee. Scott Pilgrim & The Infinite Sadness. Portland, OR: Oni Press, 2006. Print.
    Vol. 3 of Scott Pilgrim.

O’Malley, Bryan Lee. Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together. Portland, OR: Oni Press, 2007. Print.
    Vol. 4 of Scott Pilgrim.

O’Malley, Bryan Lee. Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe. Portland, OR: Oni Press, 2009. Print.
    Vol. 5 of Scott Pilgrim.

O’Malley, Bryan Lee. Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour. Portland, OR: Oni Press, 2010. Print.
    Vol. 6 of Scott Pilgrim.

The World Literature class that spawned this blog also inspired this paper, along with a Creative and Critical Writing class I took at the same time. Last year I wrote my research papers on comic books as literature and video games as storytellers. I feel it is important to view everything, including television, comics, and video games critically, as it adds depth to the works and gives them a sense of immediate relevance and importance to our growth as human beings.

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