Adolescence marks the turning point of an individual’s life, establishing the foundation of their development. During this phase, individuals leave behind the comfort of childhood and enter a reality beset with new perceptions of life. There are many stages of life, each enclosing its own distinct characteristics. As evident in the short story, Master of Disaster, written by Guy Vanderhagae, adolescence involves growth as an individual, both physically and emotionally. Although each phase has its own challenges and difficulties, adolescence proves to be the most difficult stage of life to overcome.
Through examination of the situations in the story, it becomes apparent that adolescence involves experiencing emotional conflicts between friends, searching for one’s identity amid a period of change and overcoming the negative influence of peer pressure. Adolescence is a stage of life overwhelmed by emotional conflicts between friends. It is a period of time where emotional instincts are weighed more than good judgement when making decisions that will alter the future. As evident in the story, there exists a strong emotional bond between Bernie and Kurt, “Whatever I withheld from Hiller, whatever would have been unspeakable in the company of the others was confided to Kurt Meinecke.” (Vanderhagae, Page 59)
Trust is the foundation of their friendship. Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth and strength of an individual. However, Bernie decides to betray this trust in choosing not to advise him of the intentions of Norman Hiller, “Norman was the flashy type, the guy who collected followers, collected them the way he did baseball cards and Superman comic books. I was seventeen the summer he collected Meinecke, old enough to have said something, to have warned by an innocent friend, but I didn’t.” (Vanderhagae, Page 55) Bernie is aware of Norman’s personality, yet he declines to tell Kurt the truth. This exemplifies only one of the many emotional obstacles adolescents are forced to overcome. They are often faced with a decision that will affect the outcome of life. In this situation, Bernie is torn between telling Kurt the truth and the fear that Norman will punish him for doing so.
In the past, as a result of contradicting Norman’s beliefs about a movie, Bernie was subjected to being ignored by his peers, “Norman put the word out, and nobody did talk to me. I was shunned, given the silent treatment for a month and a half before I managed to weasel my way back into Norman’s good graces.” (Vanderhagae, Page 58) This illustrates the power Norman has among his friends. He is seen as the leader of the group, so everyone abides by his every demand. Bernie is conscious of this, persuading him even more to keep the truth from Kurt. At this point, he is emotionally unstable. He feels obliged to tell his friend; however, he is afraid of facing the consequences of doing so. Bernie is in a lose, lose situation. Whatever he decides to do will negatively affect him. He is also fearful of being honest to Kurt, in the sense that it might hurt him emotionally, “I was going to tell him. Of course, I never did. Truly sweet and gentle souls never get told what the rest of us do.
Kurt Meinecke was so incorrigibly innocent…” (Vanderhagae, Page 61). This too, is an important factor in his decision to hide the truth. He does not want to overburden him emotionally, so he keeps it to himself. Adolescence can be compared to an emotional roller coaster. Both go up, then descend, but hardly ever do they remain constant for a long period of time. Adolescents are at a point in life where emotions and feelings have a big impact on decisions made. Bernie’s choice not to inform Kurt eventually contributes to the failure of their friendship, as visible in the following quote, “Kurt was never the same guy after the fight…He avoided me too. No more long conversations late at night after the pool room closed down, walking those empty streets and talking about how, just around the corner, things were going to fall into place for us. When we ran into each other, we nodded, said a few words about nothing, and then edged away from each other like people who share a secret they would sooner forget.” (Vanderhagae, Page 83)
This exemplifies one of the many consequences of decisions formed based on emotions. They tend to cloud an individual’s mind, distancing them from reason. As a result, adolescents are more inclined to think with their hearts and not with their minds. Thus, as evident through the downfall of their friendship, emotional conflict is one of the many hardships adolescents face in today’s society. As an adolescent, one is just beginning to establish an identity; however, this is difficult when changes constantly occur. Adolescence marks the transition from childhood to adulthood. Within this time, young people are forced to adjust to changes, from which they are expected to develop their own individuality. During this time, adolescents are advised to achieve one of the most critical tasks, to answer the question, “Who Am I?”. The short story, Master of Disaster, thoroughly focuses on Kurt Meinecke’s journey in search of his identity.
In the beginning, he is characterized as “mild and innocent” (Vanderhagae, Page 55); however, this portrayal changes throughout the course of his adolescence. Many teenagers are indecisive about who they are, so they become vulnerable to the expectations of others. The overwhelming amount of change within this transition phase serves as an obstacle to adolescents. Kurt illustrates that it is difficult to distinguish his true self, amid the changes in his life, “For as long I’d known him, Kurt Meinecke had been in search of his game, the one that would prove what he knew deep down inside- that he was an extraordinary athlete.” (Vanderhagae, Page 60) Kurt is influenced by others and finds it hard to distinguish his own individual identity. During adolescence, developing a positive self-image is important for growth. However, this proves to be difficult when faced with physical, emotional and social changes. Kurt is forced to cope with these changes and prove to his peers that he can be an athlete.
Adolescence is a critical period of human development as it shapes the outcome of the future. However, during adolescence, it is evident that individuals become susceptible to change. They are expected to mature as individuals and increase their position in society. Nevertheless, it is often difficult to adjust to change. Some approach change in a positive manner, while others see it as another obstacle to overcome. Bernie and his peers perceive the changes in Kurt as detrimental to his future, “The changes in Kurt were growing more and more pronounced. It was bad enough that he did exactly what Hiller told him to do when Hiller was there, but how he went even further, obeying his instructions to the letter of the law even when Norman had no way of checking upon him.” (Vanderhagae, Page 66) Rather than acting with a strong sense of self, he continues to subject himself to Norman’s manipulations.
Adolescents have a tendency to “go with the flow” instead of making firm decisions in life. Kurt no longer began to search for his own identity but rather adjust the one destined for him by others. Despite this, seeking the help of his peers led to his downfall as an individual, as indicated in the following quote, “There were other changes. His hair grew longer. He quit the football team, didn’t bother to go out for wrestling. He began to hang around strange types…Finally, with only three months of school to go before graduation, Kurt dropped out.” (Vanderhagae, Page 83) Kurt’s failure to find his own identity supports the fact that it is difficult to find one’s true self amidst a period of change. Therefore, adolescents tend to cope inadequately with change, preventing them from developing their individual identity among their peers.
Peer pressure plays a negative role in the lives of adolescents in today’s society. During adolescence, the involvement with peers occupies a central role in an individual’s life. They become more distant from the comfort they once found in their family and tend to seek the familiarity of their peers. However, peer pressure can impose a negative effect on young people, indicating that it is one of the many hardships faced by adolescents. It is clearly visible that Norman Hiller, one of the main characters in the story, can be described as the leader, known as “the guy who collected followers.” (Vanderhagae, Page 55) He possesses self-confidence and persuasion, attributes absent in most adolescents. Through his actions and convincing words, he can manipulate his friends into getting his own way, “These were the films from which Hiller absorbed the arts of scripting and direction which put Murph and Dooey and Hop Jump and Deke and me under his spell, a cast of misfits who could be persuaded to identify themselves with the screwballs who populated the movies Hiller loved.” (Vanderhagae, Page 57)
This further demonstrates that Norman can alter one’s perception of reality and twist it into something more feasible. When changes, both physical and emotional, are occurring, adolescents find reassurance in friends because they too are in the same situation as themselves. This causes young people to feel the need to fit in and be accepted, making them vulnerable to peer pressure. Unfortunately, social status is one of the most important factors in the lives of adolescents. They tend to value friendship greater than anything else. However, this causes young people to be subject to manipulation. For instance, in the short story, Norman turned his friends towards rebellion, but since they felt the need for acceptance, they did not go against his will, “We were all reborn in Norman’s imagination. He turned Dooey, an edgy little shoplifter, into James Garner. What was Garner famous for in The Great Escape? Scrounging. He could rustle up whatever you required, even in a Nazi prison camp.
Norman constructed Dooey into a legend in Dooey’s own mind until he became the consummate booster, the guy who could steal anything.” (Vanderhagae, Page 57) Dooey was willing to partake in criminal activities to be accepted by his peers. He is easily subjected to the influence of Norman. The same is true in today’s society. Teenagers often feel that it is necessary to perform certain actions to be part of a certain social group. They tend not to do what is right hoping that they will be included in the group. Although Bernie is aware that Norman is taking advantage of Kurt, he declines to speak up in fear that he will be shunned by his peers, “A sheep myself, I still managed to muster contempt for the others in Hiller’s flock, for their stupidity if nothing else. Didn’t they know what was going on? When Hiller made his speech about how we ought to show team spirit by each handing over to him five bucks to bet on Meinecke, I knew what was up.” (Vanderhagae, Page 70) He compares himself to a sheep, where Norman is the Sheppard.
Norman leads and guides them, and they proceed to follow him. Unfortunately, because of what happened in the past, Bernie does not stand up for his friend. He rather betrays Kurt’s trust than being excluded from the rest of his friends. Peer pressure is a negative aspect of adolescence. More often than not, it instils exclusion and negative influences among teenagers. Consequently, it illustrates that adolescence is the most difficult stage of life. Adolescence can be defined as the transition from childhood to adulthood. However, this stage of life usually entails hardship. As seen through the relations between the characters in the story, adolescence is inevitably the predestined phase of life, containing many obstacles to be overcome. Individuals face many difficulties throughout this period in time, the most common being the emotional aspect.
During this phase, adolescents experience a time of mixed emotions between friends. They tend to make decisions, not with their head, but instead with their heart. Furthermore, adolescence is the turning point through which individuals shape their identity. However, this proves to be difficult during a period of change, mentally and physically. Finally, within this transition, young people tend to find reassurance in their peers. Nevertheless, this can often lead to negative peer pressure. The need for acceptance exists, so they are inclined to be vulnerable to influence. In a fast-paced society, where constant change is inevitable, the transition from child to adult proves to be the most difficult. It is at this point in life that adolescents shape the outcome of the future.