In the short story “Teen culture”, Elizabeth Ellen paints a fascinating portrait of her main character. Through the use of parallels, and the first point of view, “Ellie’s mom”, is portrayed as the atypical mother, yet she fits into many stereotypes that apply to teenage girls, specifically. Ellie’s mom is a character lost in time, not even able to socialize with her own age group, her struggle to break out of her immaturity doomed from the very start of the story.
The narrator, Ellie’s mom, starts off with a stream of consciousness, pulling the reader into her mind. Interestingly enough, her first word of the story is ‘Saul’, the name of her daughter’s friend (Ellen 96), with whom she appears to have some sort of a flirting relationship. As Darius has to remind her “Saul’s not Adam” (104), referring to Ellie’s mom’s ex-boyfriend who left her.
Throughout the story, Ellie’s mom uses Saul as a stand-in for Adam, teasing him, but placing him in the same box that she placed Adam and Jimmy, “the twenty- five- year- old Guido with a mohawk” (100) she left Adam for a few months back. They’re all placeholders, a crutch she can lean on and use as a sex toy, partner and romantic-fantasy-fulfiller.
We see this in the memories of the babies that were never conceived, especially because she is so eager to have a baby boy, someone to fill that empty place of having a male in the house, and in an almost incestuous manner, Ellie’s mom chooses baby shirt similar to one that Adam wore and she ripped the buttons open like a horny teenager. While Ellie’s mom doesn’t directly place Saul in the baby-making role, his own parents’ prime concern is that their son will eventually impregnate a girl, playing directly into the role conveniently left open by Adam. After all, Saul’s name does mean ‘asked for’, almost in the same way she was hoping for a son, so he would fit the incestuous role of a lover/son that Ellie’s mom seems to prefer in her significant others.
However, it was Ellie’s mom, not Adam who backed out, deciding at the last minute not to have her IUD removed, possibly so mired in her role as “Ellie’s mom” that she cannot see herself in any other role. After all, the only role in her life that has been stable and consistent is that of “Ellie’s mother”. A major facet to the story is the protagonist’s name. We never even find out what her own name is, or her background. All we know is that she’s “Ellie’s mom”. The role seems to identify, but also constrain her. She’s so wrapped up in trying to reclaim her youth that she throws herself headlong into her daughter’s world, trying to shuck off the terms “MILF” and “cougar” (98), both terms that not only emphasize her sexuality, but rather her sexuality in reference to her age.
Ellie’s mom is characterized as ditzy and somewhat irresponsible on the surface level, but if readers look carefully enough, they can see the ‘mom’ in her taking over in certain circumstances, such as when she refuses to take the kids out for another drive around the block, claiming that “Sometimes I have to pretend to be Ferris Bueller’s sister here, or we’ll never get anywhere, we’ll always be idling”. This statement also reflects the state of Ellie’s mom’s mind, mirroring her current station in life that is neither going up nor down.
Her relationship with Adam lingers in limbo, stuck between his being with another woman as a form of petty payback and his refusal to finalize their break-up. Adam still does not cut off ties to end the friendship, texting Ellie and though he does not actively kiss back Ellie’s mom, he makes no moves to stop her from kissing him, just sitting there passively, even as she cries. It seems that she has no job, so we can assume that either Adam is sending money, or that Ellie’s mom is receiving some sort of child support and alimony that she’s living off of, so financially she’s idling. Hence, the idling pulls together all the different aspects of the story and her desperation to regain her youth, even tying into the last lines of the story, where she sends a text message to Adam, and then turns right around to address a comment of Saul’s, already distracted by the next best person to fill the empty gap in her life.
Ellen, Elizabeth. “Teen Culture.” Pushcart Prize XXXVIII: Best of the Small Presses, 2014. By Bill Henderson. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.