Jack Arnold: More than What Meets the Eye?
In a relationship between a father and his children, the father wants nothing more than to be a hero to them. The father would give anything to be “king” for a day. Jack Arnold, who plays the father in the television series, “The Wonder Years”, also wants to be a hero to his children. However, as his children grow up he realizes that the distance between him and his children keeps on increasing. Jack struggles to adapt to the changing times in which this series takes place: the socially turbulent, late 1960s and early 1970s, when traditional values were challenged and generations clashed. He has different views and opinions than his growing children, and often times this is a big contributor to most of the arguments that take place in the Arnold family. It is a constant challenge for Jack to stick to his traditional values, hardworking nature, and pertinacious habits, in the face of changing family dynamics. Throughout the show, Jack is an important and dynamic character, but one thing that never changes about him is the affection and care he shows towards his family. This affection is illustrated in a moving way between Jack and his family, including Norma, his stay-at-home wife; Karen, the rebellious, oldest daughter; Wayne, the mischievous, middle son; and Kevin, the youngest son who narrates the show as an adult fondly looking back at his childhood memories. In Kevin’s perspective, Jack comes forth to be a serious man, brought up and raised during the Depression, and hardened during his time in the army. All these factors make up who Jack is. To begin with, Jack is a traditional man. He adheres to his values and family traditions in the face of changing family dynamics. He has developed certain values and traditions that he is not willing to give up and also expects his kids to follow. Problems start to arise when Jack’s three teenage children have contrasting views on his values. For example in the episode, “The House That Jack Built,” the exchange between Jack and Karen set straight how important his values are to him. Jack cannot approve of his unmarried nineteen-year old daughter living with a man while attending college. It does not follow his morals. JACK. Your mother and I did not raise you to live this way.
Karen. Dad, these aren’t the Dark Ages. Times have changed. Things have changed. JACK. I haven’t changed! I raised you with values! I raised you to have better values that this. This conversation shows that Jack is struggling with his kids, especially Karen who is pushing against his traditional principles. It’s hard for him to see that his kids have values that are different from his. It makes him realize his biggest fear: he is losing touch with his children, and things are changing. In the end, Jack’s biggest struggle is to accept this fact and move on with life.
However, in many episodes he shows this understanding. In the episode, “The Fishing Trip,” Jack grasps the reality of how tradition sometimes can change. First of all, the bait shop owner whom they always visit before going fishing is dead. The road to their favorite fishing spot is closed off. Wayne wins at cards, which he never did before. Jack, Wayne, and Kevin do not fit in the tent anymore like they used to. These are all signs that tradition has changed. During the episode, Wayne and Kevin say, “Who thought of this stupid trip anyways?” but Jack tries to ignore the statement. At the end of this episode, Jack admits it himself when he says, “Who thought of this stupid trip anyways?” Finally, he acknowledges what has been clear all along: the tradition is over. When he says the same thing, it shows that he knew it all along but he was trying to force it anyways for the sake of tradition. He always works persistently to preserve the traditional values that mean so much to him, but throughout the television series he illustrates that he understands there are changes taking place around him, and...
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