Objective: You will analyze non-fiction texts in order to describe how the overall structure and meaning are determined by its aesthetic impact.
Non-Fiction: The Informer
Summary: Katherine Clarke moved to a new house, with bright and happy children next door. Then their mother got a new boyfriend, the children stopped smiling and Katherine had to contact social services
As soon as we moved into our West Philadelphia row home, the children who lived next door jumped over the wall and started playing with my son and daughter, who were similar ages. Together they would climb our tree and dig to Australia in our tiny garden, then come in and run up and down the stairs, leaving black smears of mud everywhere. Clare and Nick's mother, Margaret, seemed happy that they spent most of their time with us. I would hear her telling them to "go round Kath's and see what the kids are up to" when she wanted some peace or to clean and they would appear at the back door, Clare usually wearing her sparkly pink wellies and pink towelling shorts.
Clare was a beautiful, thin child, bright but with a nervous energy that meant that she seemed to find it hard to concentrate on anything. She would bombard me with questions and not wait for the answer before she asked another. She was wildly daring and would often try to climb up the houses using the grey plastic drainpipes or walk on our kitchen roof, inspiring admiration and adoration from my children.
Margaret's husband, Mike, brought home a decent amount of money as a civil engineer but there was a sense of frugality about their lives, with no long vacations and no shopping at the expensive stores downtown. Then Margaret started salsa dancing: she met a new man and everything changed. She got a job in an office, Mike moved out and the new dancing man moved in. Margaret stopped being the neat-as-a-pin housewife, and started wearing tight jeans, cropped tops and blue eye-shadow. Clare was in her second year of high school and was unimpressed by her mother's new image ("What does she think she looks like in them teenager clothes?") and her mother telling her that now it was time for her to have a bit of fun and that she should try to be nice to her new stepdad.
My children, meanwhile, told me that Clare had changed, and that they had seen her hanging out with boys, smoking and cursing on the street. She never came around to play any more. I started to see her sitting on her doorstep in the early evening, and she told me that her mother had taken her key away.
I would invite her in for tea and she would sit and chat or watch television with my children. It became a routine. When I asked Margaret why she didn't let her daughter go in the house, she said she "couldn't be trusted" and that I shouldn't let her in my house either as she would "steal stuff." I told her I was prepared to take that risk, and thought how odd it was that she spoke about her own daughter like that. Clare started to talk to us about her mom's new boyfriend and told us that he had a temper and would hit them. She claimed he had held her upside down when she had been rude to her mother. Another time she showed me bruises on her arm where she said he had held it behind her back.
Then one evening Clare dragged her old playhouse out on to her roof terrace and told me that she was going to live there from now on. She didn't want to be in the same house as "that man." Her old mutilated dolls sat like deranged guards around the house. She wrote graffiti on the terrace walls protesting at her mother's treatment of her and spent two nights folded into the small house in a sleeping bag. I lay awake all night worrying about her and begged her to come into our house. She refused because she was so determined to make her protest.
It was a desperate situation. Then one day the neighbor who lived on the other side of Clare's house came and told me she had contacted the social services and that I should too. She said that she was desperately worried about Clare, who was being locked out of her house more and more frequently in the evenings and was left walking the streets. She said she had heard screaming dozens of times from inside the house. She told me we would both regret it if we turned a blind eye and that we would never forgive ourselves if something terrible happened to Clare. She gave me the name and number of the woman at social services. We had both tried to contact Clare's father but he was so bitter about what Margaret had done that he said he was taking a long break from all of them.
I put off phoning and talked it over endlessly with my husband. I felt vile judging someone else's parenting, particularly as Margaret had heard enough shouting and arguing coming from our far from perfect family through the walls. I thought how furious I would have been if Margaret had called the social services on me.
We decided to talk to Margaret and her new boyfriend first. We knocked on the door and asked them if everything was alright with Clare. They answered with a barrage of complaints about her attitude, her language, handing in her homework late - all normal teenage stuff. We sympathised, as we knew from our son how infuriating teenagers can be, but then the boyfriend started shouting and saying that Clare was ruining their lives together and that she was making it impossible for them because she refused to accept that they were in love. I told them that she seemed very vulnerable and too young at 13 to be wandering around the streets on her own and that it was unlikely that Clare was just going to fall in line with living with a new man. The boyfriend said that he thought she was "disgusting" and "evil" and that compared to her, the boy was no trouble.
I called the social worker the next morning. She said that they were already aware of the situation because more than one person had phoned up to express their concern. She asked me for my name and I gave it. I had agreed with the neighbor on the other side that we didn't want to hide behind anonymity and that it might be a wake-up call for Margaret if she knew how worried we all were.
A few days later Clare came to our house, crying, to tell me social services had been round. Her mother had told the social worker that it was a choice between her daughter and her boyfriend and that she chose the boyfriend. Clare went to stay with a friend nearby, and my husband and I agonised over whether we should take her in. We told ourselves it would be too strange for her to be next door to the family that had rejected her but probably the real reason was that we thought she would be too much for us to take on.
After a few days Margaret dumped all Clare's stuff on to the pavement for the rubbish collectors to take - her bed, her toys, books and the playhouse. I went outside and asked her what she was doing and we had a huge argument, with her telling me that I should keep my nose out of it for once and me telling her that she was cruel, that she couldn't just give up on her own daughter like that. I will never forget the sight of Clare walking past all her stuff and picking out as much as she could so that her arms were full. Two weeks later Clare was moved to a children's home and we didn't see her any more.
Margaret, her boyfriend and her son moved out of the area, telling the couple that ran the corner shop that they had been driven out by the interfering attitude of me and the neighbor on the other side. I saw Clare a few times by chance, on the train and at the Gallery and she seemed too thin and even more nervy although she said she was "alright. Better off without them."
I felt awkward and guilty both times I bumped into her, and so I think it was me that stopped her being able to speak about how she really was. I still feel guilty that we didn't take Clare in because I think that if you believe that every child's welfare is everyone's responsibility then we should have followed through our concerns about how she was being treated by her own family by offering her shelter in ours. The worst feeling comes from being able to remember how disgusting it made me feel calling the social services on a family I had known for years - it didn't just make me feel like a curtain-twitching, judgmental busy-body, it made me feel like an informer.
All names have been changed