The lesson of the limes

Limes-OmanIn Little Women, (by Louisa May Alcott) the youngest daughter Amy confesses  to her elder sisters. ” I’m so degraded, I owe at least a dozen limes.” Meg (her older sister) replies, ” Are limes the fashion now?”  Both sisters laugh at Amy’s predicament for following the fad of bringing limes to school. In the end Meg gives her money to buy enough fruit to pay back her ‘pickled lime debt.’ Then the teacher finds her forbidden cache that Amy proudly shows off, after a girls who Amy snubs reports her violation. The teacher then throws the limes outside, strikes Amy with a stick, and makes her stand in humiliation.  Upset, Amy’s mother pulls her out of school.

It seems so confusing to today’s students  that trading fruit would be a fad. How could possessing limes be an indicator of status? But current teachers have requested that certain fad trading items – Pokemon cards and shaped rubber bands, for instance – be banned from school because of the disturbance caused by these in classes. Imagine a version of the lime event today. A group of students subtly ignoring the ban, trade cards or rubber bands every free moment. A left out student (like the girl that Amy snubs in Little Women) steals some, or complains and causes a bit of pandemonium. The teacher takes them all away throws them in the trash. This teacher would probably not fare so well with the parents.

However, there is still a universal idea to be gleaned from the lime incident in Little Women. The mother warned Amy that it was her problem – the preoccupation with popular fads – that caused her to break school rules and be punished.  Even though the teacher’s reaction was too severe, Amy was not innocent of wrong. There is an absurdity to being caught up in fads, the iPhones with garish plastic cases, neon colored athletic socks named for a sports hero, which carry a trendy price tag as well. Students assume these are the things that guarantee the envy of other students.  Showing excellence in learning doesn’t have the same effect.

Fads are followed because they are novel. But they are not so new and different as to scare conformists  from jumping on the bandwagon. That is why fads particularly play havoc with the arts; a person experiments to perfect a new type of writing , visual art or music.  Once it is accepted into the mainstream it is then in demand, multitudes copy it. A fresh new set of characters in a unique setting is not allowed to exist for only one magnificent tale. They must be used in story after story until the audience notes a decline in the plots and character development. Rather than let a single creative narratives stand as it is, we milk the world for as many stories as possible. Then, the uniqueness fades quickly.  Creating  a work of art that spawns a fad, has its own price. Amy got off easy with a public whipping and the loss of her precious limes.

Art work from photo by Tristan, CC BY SA

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