Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts


Casey Flaherty 

The New York Police Department in the 1970s

Trauma and Evolution of Identity in Jacquelyn Mitchard’s Novels

In Jacqueline Mitchard’s novels, the main characters all face serious traumas that cause their entire lives to change. When faced with the conflict between the lives they imagined for themselves and the reality of the present, Mitchard’s protagonists are unable to reconcile these disparate realities, and only those who accept their circumstances are able to maintain their identities as they are being pressured to create new ones. A character who exemplifies this development is Gabe Steiner-Gillis in Mitchard’s novel, The Breakdown Lane . After Gabe’s father, Leo, abandons his family with Gabe’s little sister Caroline in tow, and Julianne, Gabe’s mother, develops Multiple Sclerosis, Gabe becomes an authority figure in the household. Gabe transforms from a nervous child plagued by a learning disability and low self-esteem, to a confident young man who is able to act as a father figure for his other younger sister, Aurora. Gabe is an example of a character who, in the face of challenging circumstances, is able to evolve from what is comfortable to what is necessary.

Similarly, in the 1970s the New York Police Department evolved with its own challenging circumstances. As internal corruption, drug usage, bombings, gangs, serial killers, and racial tension flooded the Department, being one of the “boys in blue” became a precarious profession. Internal corruption created the Serpico ordeal, one of the biggest whistleblowing scandals in police history. Serpico turned the black insides of the NYPD out and brought them into the spotlight. Crime wasn’t the only problem, either. Between budget cuts, blackouts, scandals, and strikes, officers had more on their plates than simply taking in criminals. In 1975, New York City experienced its biggest fiscal crisis to date, causing thousands of layoffs throughout the Police Department. This caused the officers to strike; they handed out pamphlets entitled “Fear City,” about how unsafe New York would get with fewer policemen on duty. The New York Police Department faced many reforms through the 1970s, which shaped it into a stronger, more cohesive force.

Major Works Consulted:

Armstrong, Michael F.They Wished They Were Honest: The Knapp Commission and New York City Police Corruption. New York: Columbia, 2012.
English, T.J. The Savage City: Race, Murder, and a Generation On the Edge. New York: William Morrow, 2011.
Mitchard, Jacquelyn. All We Know of Heaven. New York: HarperTeen, 2008. Kindle AZW file. ---. The Breakdown Lane. New York: HarperCollins, 2005.
Photo Credit: Melanson, Nicole. Photo of Jacquelyn Mitchard. Digital image. Word Mothers. N.p., 25 June 2015. Web. 14 Apr. 2016.