Philip Cioffari, in both works, Jesusville and Catholic Boys, puts forth the idea of the “silent sufferer.” Used in different ways in each of the novels, the “silent sufferer” is characterized by guilt and shame. This discussion looks at Vee in Jesusville, whose character undergoes punishment as a way of being possessed and alleviating the lost and lonely feeling within her and Arthur and Donald in Catholic Boys, who are punished for the guilt of others’ sins. These characters “suffer silently,” each one reinforcing major themes in “their” novels through their punishment.
To begin, the discussion focuses on Vicki’s character in Jesusville. When first introduced to Vicki, Cioffari describes her as having a startling beauty, dressed with a look that seemed to be “a threat to her safety” (Cioffari 14). Shortly into the novel, we see Vicki’s uneasiness and her need for validation—that is a confirmation of self and of the existence of another. Cioffari writes, “With her rigid glaze she seemed almost catatonic. She wanted him there, but it was as if nothing existed but herself and maybe not even that” (Cioffari 21). Vicki realizes her need to be validated; though, she is unaware of how she is to obtain it. Vicki then asks Trace, “Did you ever think when you look at yourself like this in the mirror that what you’re seeing isn’t really you” (Cioffari 22)? She continues, stating, “I’m not Vicki anymore. From now on I want you to call me Vee. Okay” (Cioffari 22)? It is at this point in the novel that Vee becomes aware of her own isolation—to Trace and to others. Her loneliness eats away at her and makes it impossible for her to have a fulfilling relationship. Vicki’s shift into the personage of Vee is her validation of the person that she wants to be—a person that will have to undergo capture in order to be “redeemed.”
As stated previously, Vee’s journey will reiterate key ideas in the novel. This idea of redemption is one such idea. With each character on his or her own “faith journey” each one seeks redemption for lost time and past sins. Vee’s journey can be seen as representative of the other character’s need for validation as well. We see Trace’s need to validate his father’s faith, Dillon’s need to validate the existence of such a divine plant, Father Martin needing to validate his own faith and usefulness, and Jessie Belle’s need to validate the truth of Joshua’s disappearance.
Later in the novel Vee is alone in the room questioning “all things big and small” (Cioffari 53). Cioffari writes, “When she was adrift like this anything could happen, she might let anything happen. And that’s what frightened her most; that the danger awaiting her would be of her own making” (Cioffari 54). This line could be a foreshadowing of her later interlude with Dillon when she allows him to take “possession” of her. Though, it could, and I believe more likely, is an acknowledgement of sin, and the fears of knowing that danger/punishment are the consequences....