Friday, May 13, 2011

The Tragedy of Jenna

(Due to Blogger issues, I fear our Wednesday publication was lost in the mix. Please be sure to scroll down and read Babydoll's Honor by Kent Walsh after this post. Thanks!)

**Warning: If any of you watch or care about The Vampire Diaries, but haven't seen the last two episodes of the season yet - do not read this post until you do. Spoiler coming up!

**Note: I'm not as familiar with the book series by L.J. Smith, so please keep the "It didn't happen like that in books!" comments to a minimum. Thanks :)

I had the idea for this blog post last week after watching the tragic end of a certain character on The Vampire Diaries. Knowing the show is always full of surprises, and that there was one episode left of the season, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. But nope. Jenna was really dead.

Watching The Vampire Diaries has taught me two things: 1) A really good piece of jewelry will save your life, and 2) All black people can do magic. Within the last two episodes came Lesson #3: Creatures of the night don't always kill you, but ignorance will. Jenna's death proved this.

To me, Jenna was the saddest character and her demise only made her more tragic. Jenna was one of the few (human) adults on the show, and her character, to me, represented the epitome of every fallen literary heroine. I don't know if they ever gave Jenna's exact age, but I think we're meant to assume she was in her early thirties (maybe late twenties). Jenna was a bit of a party girl in her youth. We know that, historically, she's had a thing for hot, yet horribly wrong, bad boys, and she can still drink most dudes (and vamps) under the table. Basically, Jenna had been enjoying her comfortable role as "the cool aunt" until her sister died and suddenly had to take care of Elena and Jeremy - two teens who, at the time, were dealing with the shock of their parents' death and going through their emo/my-friends-no-longer-understand-me phase (uh, Jeremy especially, if y'all remember Season 1). This was not an easy role for someone like Jenna to get thrust into unexpectedly.

In literature, many major life changes are viewed as tragedies, at least at first. Death is probably the most common. There are the deaths of parents, siblings, spouses, and friends, which are horrible by themselves. Then, of course, there's the aftermath of those deaths. More often, the changes we experience end up putting us in a position we never thought we'd be in. If a loved one dies, we're prepared for the sadness that follows, but less often do we expect the part where our entire lives change because of that one event.

What happens next can either remain tragic, or become something positive. In Jenna's case, her initial fear and anger over giving up her past life evolved into something resembling actual happiness. Sure, Jenna let Stefan spend the night all the time and didn't always know where the kids were, but she trusted them and they trusted her. Their partnership in taking care of each other allowed Jenna to become an adult. She even got to hold on to her hot bad boy fetish, but this time it was in the form of the much more mature and well-meaning Alaric.

For me, Jenna's real tragedy was that she embodied the dangers of an abstinence-only education. Only, instead of sex, it's vampires. In the same way that the sheltered, small-town YA heroine will inevitably get pregnant the first time she has sex, Jenna was kept in the dark about the dangers surrounding her, so when it came time to finally face them, it was too late to prepare.

Elena went from dating a vampire to being the doppelganger of his vampire ex-lover to being hunted the oldest vampire of all time. All the while, Jenna thought she was just hanging out with Bonnie. The only reason Jenna was finally told vampires exist, let alone were controlling the fates of everyone she loved, was because Alaric (who also lied to her, but felt bad about it) became possessed by one. The gang waited until Jenna's actual life was in danger, not realizing that the realities of vampires were endangering her life the entire time. Jenna didn't only learn the truth; she drowned in it.

As if having her life thrown completely around for a second time wasn't tragic enough, Jenna finally accepts that vampires are real just in time to become one. If she hadn't been shielded from reality, would she have been spared? Probably. Just knowing vampires existed wasn't the source of her demise. It was the lack of knowledge in how to protect herself against them. If she had been told earlier, she could have had fresh vervain in her tea every morning or know not to invite people in when she's home alone. But because the situation got too deep before she was let in, Jenna was lost.

The saddest thing about Jenna, even more so than giving up her life for others and being the victim of ignorance, is that she never got the chance to adjust to her new vampire identity. It was another sad tragedy that she would have no doubt overcome. There was always amazing sexual tension between her and Damon (OK, that's true for everyone), and it would have been interesting to see yet another love of Alaric's go vamp and seek comfort in Damon. Jenna will never have that opportunity. She won't know it's OK to be a vampire and that it doesn't mean killing people. She'll never get to see the positive side of her tragedy the way she did before, when she had time to learn and grow from it.

If I can reference a different teen vampire show, in which a clueless Dawn invites in a vampire because the rest of the gang had been too busy shielding her from them, Buffy says, "She has to be protected and coddled from the big bad world, well you know what? We are doing nothing but turning her into a little idiot who is going to get us all killed." Once again, Joss Whedon wins the universe and inadvertently explains why Jenna is dead and people like Elena and Bonnie, who are constantly in the middle of danger, get to stay alive. Knowledge is the best defense.

To anyone who doesn't watch The Vampire Diaries and is still reading, I thank you. But now, you tell me - Who do you think is the most tragic character in literature? What makes their endings - whether it's their death, marriage, circumstance, or other life change - more tragic than the others in that particular novel?

4 comments:

  1. I have to say that I read the books when the were first published. So... yes, I did have a bit of a ... OMG that didn't happen in the book!!! Moment...s actually, yes, moments. But the show has grown on me because of how amazing the actors are... even if sometimes I felt like banging Stefan and Elena's head against a very hard surface. XD

    That said, I was well beyond sad and upset about Jenna's death. She had so much more, in my opinion, to do. But I totally understand her death. After all, Elena needs to be independent and be more of her own person. I know, she's very independent but the truth is that like Luke Skywalker needed Obi Wan to die, and Harry Potter needed to get under Dumbledore's wing, she needed to have to be confronted with the fact that there are no grown ups around for her to run to.

    The end of the season finale left me rather shaken and looking forward to the next season.

    Now, I think that the most tragic figure in literature is Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet. But I think I've rambled on long enough so I will leave it at that LOL

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  2. For me, the tragic characters are simply the ones we liked enough to care about, but didn't get to watch grow or change. My main point, really, is that Joss Whedon is a freaking genius.

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  3. Heathcliff is preetty tragic...but moving on.

    I have no one who watched vampire diaries so I'm loving this post. (And Damon could have sexual tension with a lamp post. It'd be odd and disturbing and yet some how sexy).

    So excited that maybe the Damon, Elena dynamic can be explored now. (It's filmed just below me in Hotlanta. I'd love to take a road trip and watch Damon do the hot eye squinting thing in person)

    I can only post anonymous for some reason.
    So I'll sign here.
    Missy Lee

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  4. The last episode of Vamp Diariies left me yelling at the TV, YESSSSS. Now all my favorite dead people can return.
    So don't count Jenna out yet. She might be back :)

    The most tragic figure in literature? Frodo. He gave up everything, his beloved home, his carefree existence to save the world from Sauron. And he was just a little guy, without a lot of ambition.

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