While reading The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman, it occurred to me that feeling invisible, like Antsy and the Schwa often do, and having a low self-concept might be related. The relationship between invisibility and self-concept actually changed throughout the book. The way self-concept is defined in this week’s reading, it’s about self-perception across multiple areas. Different areas can be valued differently in different individuals. For example, one kid cares more about sports, the other cares more about academics. For the purposes of evaluating Antsy’s self-concept, I want to talk about being “invisible.”
If you think about it, the only people who want to be invisible in middle school are the ones who are consistently picked on. Neither Antsy nor the Schwa fit that definition. If either of them do, it’s the Schwa but seeing as no one can remember him for long enough to pick on him–he’s safe (until Antsy’s friends find a way to give him the cold shoulder, but that’s off topic right now). It’s safe to say that both Antsy and the Schwa want to be noticed, or at least perceive themselves as being noticed. In fact, when they become friends, Antsy notes “Although I’m a bit ashamed to say it, it felt good to be around someone more invisible than me.” (p.26) Here, Antsy values being visible and he perceives himself as being comparatively visible, which should help his self-concept.
All of that changes when Antsy becomes the Schwa’s manager. Taking dares for money and winning, being put on retainer by student government for your sneaky skills–aside from being things that every middle school kid dreams of, they also serve to make you more visible to the student body. This is how the Schwa and Antsy get their invisibility noticed. But Antsy, to his credit, knows that the Schwa is the real star. After a particularly good negotiation, they have this conversation:
“‘You oughta go to business school, Antsy,’ the Schwa told me as we scarfed down fries at Fuggettaburger. ‘You’ve got a real knack for it.’ ‘Naah,’ I said. ‘I’m just leeching off of you.'” (p.37)
Does this affect his self-perception of invisibility? While I’m sure that it does, since both Antsy and the Schwa are both feeling more visible than they used to, it probably doesn’t matter too much to Antsy that the Schwa is on top. Over time, it might but as we see in the book, that does not continue. In fact, after the Crawley incident, perceptions of visibility go right back to the way they used to be, except where Crawley is concerned.
Throughout the book, we see Antsy value other things, like keeping his word to Crawley about doing community service (p. 59). In the end though, it is visibility that he prizes most. He steps into the fight between his parents, wanting to be noticed. When he succeeds at being seen, he tells the truth because that will make is parents see him more clearly. And what happens? It helps. It may cause a fight in the short-term but by the end of the story, he’s eating great French and Italian food and his parents are opening a new restaurant, courtesy of Crawley. He kept his word. He helped people, both Crawley and the Schwa. Though there may not be immediate results for the Schwa or Crawley, by the end of the book, I think Antsy’s self-concept is much higher. In fact, I think he’s past his middle school low and ready for high school. The best part about the demonstration in this book? Antsy mostly figures this stuff out himself. Plus, the story is well-written, funny and not a demonstration of how a tween can raise their self-concept. That’s just a byproduct of good character development.