Little Fires Everywhere

Just wanted to mention that the Amazon Prime series Little Fires Everywhere with Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon is totally worth watching. My wife and I both loved it. For those of you who like upper-left concerns (@Lakis @jhull), I’m pretty sure that’s what this is.

Spoiler - some ideas on the storyform

It felt close to American Beauty’s structure in terms of Domains, Concerns, and also Failure/Good.
The OS Goal would be something like “figuring out how to make an integrated family community with different races and walks of life work”.
I was a bit unsure on who was MC vs IC in the main story (not sure if there are substories) between Elena and Mia. At first I thought Elena was MC, but we do see Mia’s dreams, so I picked Mia. That makes it a Steadfast Holistic story (so different from American Beauty or Ex Machina at this level).

So I have OS Conceptualizing, MC The Past, and OS Problem Self Aware. Oh, and I picked Decision as the OS Driver because of the clear concluding driver being a decision moment (upstairs hallway, enough said in case you ignored the spoiler warning :slight_smile: ). And the First Driver would probably be Mia’s decision to move to Shaker.

There were a lot of cool things about how the MC and IC mirrored each other. There was no “you and I” moment, but there was something like it in how the characters looked at a certain photograph. Very subtle.

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I’ve been wanting to watch that! I love both Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon and I could tell from the preview that it was probably my kind of story :slight_smile:

I didn’t look at your spoilers. I’ll see if I can watch it this week.

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Hey @mlucas! My wife and I finally watched this. We thought it was great (I have chills). Well worth it.

(I’m just going to put this here now so we can write freely without having to hide responses):


I decided to see if I could come up with a storyform on my own before I looked at your notes just to see if we were thinking along the same lines. Looking forward to analyzing.

I agreed on this right away. In fact, I thought that was easier than placing the Domains.

I had the same difficulty at first, but in the end I agree – Mia is the series MC. However, I’m not so sure about which of them is Changed. I was thinking it was Mia – she finally comes clean with Pearl; it seemed like that final scene where she asks Pearl where she (Pearl) wants to go next was a change. But the more I think about it, I’m not sure–maybe that was an RS moment? Do you think Elena’s comment (“confession”) at the end that she “burned it down” is a sign of her change? I can see that argument.

So I thought it was OS Psychology for a while. But now I’m not sure. By the end, I was thinking the OS was in Mind.

There’s so much conflict that seems like it stems from Fixed Attitudes. Prejudice and racism; ideas about “who can be a good mother” (the courtroom scene); Izzi’s problems being accepted at school and at home; (Gists: “Being Shunned” “Being Bigoted” “Taking a Contrarian View” “Considering Something Unacceptable”). Also concerns – Pearl’s Innermost Desires (why do we have to live like this? Why can’t I meet my father?) and of course the Impulsive Responses that keep coming up.

If this is right, then I would put Mia in Psychology: she is an artist-who-had-her-own-plans (vision) (Conceptualizing). Some psychology gists that feel like they fit: “Being Ungrateful to Someone” “Being Unsympathetic of Someone” “Being Irresponsible with Someone” “Being Prickly towards a Particular Group” “Being Unable to Cope with a Particular Group”.

Elena then would be Physics – she is constantly getting involved and doing things that cause problems (bribing people, investigating the past).

And the RS between them would be Universe – Mia is Elena’s tenant and later “house manager”. They are literally (physically) in each other’s business.

What do you think? This isn’t one that felt totally obvious to me (except for the Concern quad), so I could probably be convinced differently.

EDIT: I think it’s possible that there are sub-storyforms – like that one episode toward the end that was all flashbacks of Mia and Elena’s lives.

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Interesting! I like your Domain arrangement a lot. In fact, the other day I was thinking about what an RS in Universe is like and on example that popped into mind was Elena and Mia, and I didn’t second-guess it at all (I think by that point I’d half-forgotten the storyform I wrote down above).

The only thing that’s a bit weird with that arrangement, though, is the RS Concern of The Past. It’s not immediately clear to me how The Past would be a main source of conflict in that relationship. However, I can certainly see it working for other relationships (Elena & Izzi; Mia & Pearl; Elena & her husband…)

I have to go now but I’ll definitely give this some more thought!

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Yeah, I was thinking that too. What just popped into my head now though is that maybe that part of the RS is actually the relationship between Mia and Pearl, where the Past is absolutely an issue. (Actually RS Universe works for them too – living together in different locations or in a car…)

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Yeah! I definitely think Mia & Pearl, Elena & Izzi, and Elena & her husband are all strong contenders for RS.

I’m having a lot of trouble coming up with a Goal of Memory for this story though. And I feel strongly enough about upper-left Concerns that I don’t know if it’s worth looking at the others… Maybe we could consider upper-right, but stuff in the characters’ pasts was so strong in this story that it was pretty obvious The Past & Memory were driving conflict in some throughlines…

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I was afraid you’d say that. I was having trouble here too. :thinking:

I agree. I would be very surprised if it wasn’t upper left.

So where does that leave us?
OS Physics (no)
OS Universe – I don’t think so…it’s not like they’re trapped in Shaker Heights…

OS Psychology. Possibly. Going back to your first idea:

I could see Conceptualizing with Helena in addition to Mia. Both of them had life plans that went awry. Lexie – yes, with all of her scheming to get into Yale…using Pearl’s story…

But I’m not sure I see it with the other OS characters. Bibi isn’t exactly scheming to get her baby back – her Concerns feel much more Subconscious/Preconscious/Conscious/Memory. Same with Izzi – Izzi never really has an agenda. She’s in pain, excluded, lashing out.

“I think I hate my mom.”

“I think I hate your mom too.”

And the final scene – assuming we could agree on OS Mind, I would be interested to see if the final Signpost came out as Preconscious.

Okay, so back to the possible OS Goal of Memory. A few possibilities:

  1. It’s subtle, but isn’t there something in there about Shaker Heights’ “hidden racist past”? The show actually spurred a conversation between me and my wife about race, and how we teach our children about race; about how our generation was sort of taught to “not see” race, but how that also contributes to not seeing our own privilege. I’m having trouble articulating this – but is there something about “suppressing” a racist past, or “trying to forget about our differences” here?

  2. Assuming you’re right about this being a Holistic story, does it make more sense to look to the OS Issue for the Goal (isn’t that one of Jim’s recent holistic insights?)

Okay, that’s all I’ve got for now. :slight_smile:

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Not that I’m necessarily arguing for OS Psychology, but I don’t think they need to be scheming or have agendas to fit an OS of Psychology. Izzy reminds me a lot of the daughter in American Beauty. Bebe’s struggle could be rooted in manners-of-thinking as she visualizes – and wishes not to visualize – her daughter (though of course memory/forgetting is pretty strong there too).

Another thing that’s really interesting is that, I found some of the race-based conflict seemed “tacked on”, like it didn’t totally belong in this story. And just now I found out that in the book Mia & Pearl’s race wasn’t defined – many readers assumed they were Chinese-American, some even thought they were white. The author Celeste Ng said she wanted to write them as people of color but didn’t feel she was the right person to be able to do that, so kind of left it open:

Mia’s race in the novel isn’t specified, but author Celeste Ng pictured her as a white working-class woman.

So I think the book was probably a lot more about class-based conflict than race-based, and to me the class (money & opportunity) stuff was a lot stronger in the show than the race-based conflict. For example, the conflict between the oldest Richardson daughter and her boyfriend often felt contrived.

This could definitely explain why we’re having trouble with Domains, esp. if the TV show tried to shift it from the original story.

On the other hand, I really loved the show and only felt that “tacked on” feeling in a few places, so you’d think it would still have a solid storyform. I’d be interested to hear your take on this – maybe for other viewers the race-based conflict comes out stronger?

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Something else interesting – I remember telling my wife that the scene at the end where all the Richardson kids set the fire didn’t feel believable to me, sort of contrived. And just now I read that was changed from the book – in the book only Izzy sets it!

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Oh wow, that’s interesting! I might have to read the book now.

On the other hand I was just reading that the real Shaker Heights (where Ng lived in the 90s) had a long history of deliberate attempts to integrate for decades, with mixed results (depending on who’s reporting). Here’s a quote from a 1991 NY Times article:

The city has found that integration is not only difficult to begin but also difficult to maintain. If it is to occur at all, residents here say, it requires prodding and pampering and a kind of eternal vigilance and preoccupation with race. The city goes so far as to provide financial incentives to those who move into neighborhoods dominated by the other race.

Yeah, maybe I’m sensitized by recent events – but I felt like race was everywhere in this story, even when it wasn’t discussed explicitly. And of course race and class are inextricably intertwined in this country (though one does not = the other).

Yeah, I agree. I think it’s got to be there, we just need to figure it out!
I’m not quite sure how proceed in our analysis though…

I agree – it would have been braver and more honest to make it just Izzy who sets the fire!

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Here are some potential premises for different Domain arrangements. Note I don’t find holistic premises very intuitive so I’m sticking with linear for now.

OS Conceptualizing (Consequence of Understanding):

Virtue awaits those who become aware of others’ circumstances, even if it means suffering the consequences of finally understanding where your children are coming from.

OS Memory (Consequence of The Past):

Virtue awaits those who become aware of others’ circumstances, even it it means suffering the consequences of a past attempt at racial integration.

I like the first one a lot better, but maybe that’s just my interpretation?

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I agree – of the two the first one is better for sure. But just to back up to make sure we’re on the same page, you have Mia as a Steadfast MC (right?). I’m still not 100% on this.

Do you think she is a Be-er or Do-er (Universe or Mind?). I think in your initial storyform you had her as Universe/Past. I’m not sure about this. At first glance Elena seems like a Universe character to me – stuck in a house with four kids. (But she also has those prejudices…hmm).

For Mia meanwhile:

Case for do-er: she responds by changing her external environment (running).
Case for be-er: she responds by changing her internal state (art).

I like your Element Quad of Self Aware/Aware/Inequity/Equity.

For my OS of Mind, I was circling around Perception/Actuality/Thought/Knowledge. If Mia is Steadfast, this would make Elena’s problem Perception as well-- she is trying to create the “picture perfect” life, but it’s only when she sees what’s Actually going on (when the house burns down) that she changes (but it’s too late -> Failure). (This makes her Focus/Direction Self Aware/Aware FWIW). I haven’t tried to come up with a premise for this though.

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Yeah, this story is tricky! We’ll have to try not to go down the wrong path.

I might have been wrong about Mia’s Domain. I was thinking Universe represented her class, being poor, driving and sometimes living out of a beat-up old car, etc. Except it’s revealed that she actually has access to a lot of money and it’s more her attitude about those kind of things that keeps her and Pearl in semi-poverty.

She’s certainly driven by fear, too – the fear of Pearl’s father finding them and taking Pearl away, the nightmares. And the conflict with her parents has to do with attitude (their attitude toward her getting pregnant, her attitude toward them in response). Finally, she’s got all this buried grief and remorse about having to end things with her lover/professor. Which turns into pure grief when she learns the professor died.

So yeah, I think she’s probably a Be-er. :slight_smile: And Mind fits all the above really well. Now for Resolve…

  • Case for Change: she ended up doing a lot of things that she never wanted to do. Sold her painting, contacted Pearl’s father, and drove to her parents’ house.
  • Case for Steadfast: she did all of the above only for love of Pearl, and hesitated going into her parents’ house at the end, until she read Pearl’s poem. Also, she and Pearl left Shaker Heights, so Mia returns to the nomadic lifestyle she started with.

I’m torn! I think I could see Elena both ways too.

Doesn’t Elena say Izzy’s name properly (instead of Isabelle) at the end once though? I thought that was indication of Change for her…

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So – is Elena’s last line (“I did it”) a sign of change? Is it a change if a character has a realization too late to affect the outcome? Isn’t there an article on this somewhere? And does it matter if it’s the IC vs. MC? (And are we sure Elena is the IC instead of the MC?)

I’m all turned around on this one!

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@mlucas I want to circle back to this at some point though I’m not sure how much time I’ll have this week.

Quickly though I just wanted to say that with some distance:

  1. I am coming around to your view that this is OS Psychology/Conceptualizing, and that the problems about race are not so much Fixed Attitudes as they are problematic ways of thinking about race and class. There really is a lot of manipulation and scheming in the story.

  2. I am wondering if Elena isn’t actually the MC, at least for the “top level” storyform (there might be substories). The reason I’m thinking this is that Mia seems to have a lot of “impact” on not just Elena but all the members of the Richardson family – her arrival disrupts everything and challenges all of their perspectives. This suggests that she might be the IC.

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Cool! Yeah, this is definitely true. And actually, now that I think about it (also with more distance), a lot of Elena’s personal issues felt really personal to me, especially the conflict between her and Izzy. Almost like “why can’t I be nicer to my daughter and call her by the name she wants to be called?”.

The dream stuff with Mia might just be a red herring. I certainly found Mia’s character more “removed” from myself as a viewer.

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FWIW if you put Elena in Universe/Past you get (here we go again) Issues of Fate/Prediction/Interdiction/Destiny which sound right on – she chose a predetermined course for her life that she regrets, she’s always sticking her nose in, etc.

That gives Mia Memory -> Truth/Evidence/Suspicion/Falsehood which also sounds correct. (Actually it sounds exactly right).

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Yes, you’re absolutely right! Those both feel really good.

The funny thing is, that is actually the storyform (at least at Concern level) that I initially wrote down, until I second-guessed myself and thought Mia had to be the MC, while at the same time trying to move Mia into Universe.

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Hey @mlucas sorry I’ve been too busy to engage on this for a bit. Are you still interested in trying to figure the rest out?

My next thought was that Elena was Steadfast. The little moment at the end when she has a realization comes too late to actually change things (resolve the story) and it’s ambiguous if it’s a real change. I think I read somewhere that that moment wasn’t in the book – it sounded like it might have been a little cop out from the show writers because they wanted to give Elena an arc. I think there’s a better case to be made for Mia’s change – she goes from hiding everything about her life to telling Pearl, and letting Pearl see her grandparents.

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Happy to keep going @Lakis. Hopefully I can still remember it well enough! :slight_smile:

I like your reasoning for Elena as Steadfast. It makes sense what you said about the show writers. Also, it’s possible the show added a low-res substory with Elena and Izzy? But let’s not worry about that for now.

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