Elizabeth  Berg
Symposium 2001
Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, MA
Kathryn Fulton
“Elizabeth Berg: Symbolic Characters Who Achieve Joy Through Sorrow”
“Child Abuse in America 1800s-1900s”

“If you stand out in the rain long enough, you will eventually see the rainbow.” These words spoken by Greg King a contemporary critic, truly reflect the circumstances and outcomes of the characters in Elizabeth Berg’s novels including Durable Goods, Joy School and Until the Real Thing Comes Along. Many of the symbolic characters have to face the metaphorical rain, whether it be a spouse in a possibly fatal condition, broken marriage vows or growing up in an abusive household. Each character’s relationships are strengthened or diminished as a result of the metaphorical rain. Each individual survives the storm in his own way. They all possess admirable characteristics which enable them to endure devastating, life altering conditions. Each character’s greatest attribute is her faith which gives her the internal strength to realize that the rainbow will soon appear. Each character achieves joy through a sorrowful situation. The circumstances that all of Berg’s characters have to face help them to become strong people who possess feelings of contentment and thankfulness.

Real children, like Berg’s characters, also have to face the metaphorical rain. Child abuse has existed since the beginning of time, yet it was not recognized as a problem by American society until the 1870s. Women, who had become more educated and involved in societal problems, established the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which is still in operation today. Child abuse was not accepted as a national problem until the 1960s, despite earlier efforts made by the Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Child abuse is still an issue in society today, but due to advocacy and legislation, significant progress has been made since the 1880s.

Photo credit: http://www.lifetimetv.com/movies/orig_movies/move2820/berg_bio.html