At 18, Pamela Moore wrote a coming-of-age story, but it is rather a crashing-into-age “tragedy”. Even though the characters announce that they “are not capable of tragedy” and their lives are a “child’s game that came to an end”, I can’t help but feel a sense of overwhelming sadness as the story closes, as if the protagonist had failed her life. It was then that I catch myself doing the thing that the parents, in the story and in real life, do and think for their children, and I realize the ultimate struggle and conflict of this story: how to gain power and freedom when one is not ready for it.
Struggling against parents is one of the major themes of the novel. From the first chapter, Courtney laments about her relationship with her mother, “why do we have to pretend to the parents?” The girls lie and avoid their parents when needed so they can achieve a sense of freedom: going to parties at night, drinking with boys and having affairs at their command. Inadvertently, the lies distance them from their parents, and build up an illusion that they have complete control over their lives. Courtney and Janet learn to become masters at controlling the people they meet, through dates and love affairs. Their attractive youth becomes one of their weapons and they equate sexual liberty and breaking laws with power. But it is not just defying parental rules that make them free, it is also breaking away from their parent’s influence. Courtney resists her parents advice, but it is Janet who displays her struggle emotionally and physically as pivotal points of the novel.
In the two scenes between Janet and her father, dynamic and different attack strategies were utilized by the characters. These attacks are seen again and again in many different stories of parent and children, which may be different in words but the same in essence. Janet’s position is her right to privacy and freedom, while her father’s is his right to maintain guidance and control over his underage daughter. The struggle starts from an isolated incident to emotional and accusatory language, escalating in intensity. This is how family relationships are destroyed, from small incidents, building up to accumulating unresolved bitterness to the point where emotion and fact cannot be separated. Once tangled up in this mess, the characters have no way out.
Not unlike parental struggle, which is both physical and emotional, the female protagonists also plunge themselves into love affairs that result in damage. Courtney’s affair with Cabot, which under current laws can be considered statutory rape, met with strong disapproval from her wise guardian Al Leone. This love started out to be a “Romeo and Juliet” type and seemed to head out to a strong and glamorous finish, but Moore chose to let the affair meet with reality and end with pain. The centre piece of the lost of innocence in “Chocolates for Breakfast” is not losing virginity sexually, but rather Courtney’s realization that love is “ugly” and never perfect. It is then she learns to manipulate her lovers, as seen with George, Anthony, Charles etc. She moves from one to another without pain, just like her moving from one restaurant to another, “I get tired of the same places.” Perhaps this is her declaration of sexual independence, that she is not in need of one single man. Readers may disagree with Courtney’s way of finding sexual liberty, but it is no doubt she is making her statement loud and clear. To me, it is a tragedy, because I could no longer see what her value in love is, though she longingly wants to be loved.
And as the girls learn about their life and values, I find myself judging them, disapproving of their decisions, being disappointed and at the same time cheering them on. I react to their actions the way their fictional parents do, and realize the girls did achieve freedom because they made decisions independent of other’s judgments and faced the consequences. The story is a complete coming-of-age tale, with strong female protagonists who refuse to be victims. When the book was published, it probably gained attention for its sexual themes, but I believe it is the psychological and physical struggles that make the story so riveting and moving and relatable to anyone who is going through or remembers the difficulties of growing up.