Summary: November

As Greg rides the bus to school, he notices that his Gramma’s house was toilet-papered on Halloween night. At school, Greg’s physical education teacher announces that they will do a unit on wrestling. Greg watches professional wrestling on TV to prepare, but he later learns that the class will do traditional wrestling and have to wear singlets. Worse, they are paired by weight, which means Greg must wrestle another lightweight boy in class, Fregley, who ends up being pretty good. Greg wants to move up a weight class, so he approaches his parents for a bench press. They say that maybe they will consider one for Christmas, so Greg builds his own bench press with plastic jugs full of sand and an ironing board. 

At school, things are tough. First, Greg fails a geography quiz. Later, Greg’s mother makes him try out for the school play, The Wizard of Oz, and Greg decides that being cast as a tree would be a good part because he will get to pelt Patty Ferrell (who is playing Dorothy) with apples. Greg does get cast as a tree, but he discovers that his costume has no arm holes. In addition, Greg only has one line—“Ouch!”—but must sit through two-hour rehearsals anyway.

Analysis: November

Greg’s inability to sympathize with others, including the people he bullies, reflects his need for more inner growth to become a true grownup. Greg shows a need for learning how to see other people’s perspectives. At first, Greg sympathizes when he sees Gramma’s house has been toilet papered. However, his comment that she does not have much else to do reveals an immature and selfish perspective. Readers can also see Greg’s immaturity demonstrated by his level of anger when he’s prevented from cheating on the geography quiz. Readers see Greg does not take academics and studying seriously. He wants to take a shortcut and receive credit for someone else’s hard work. Instead of feeling guilty for trying to cheat, Greg shifts the blame. Greg’s immaturity motivates him to look for shortcuts rather than to develop a realistic plan that involves hard work. It also drives him to retaliate against Patty rather than take accountability for his own mistakes.

The weightlifting and wresting motif allow Greg to explore masculinity and strength as indicators of popularity and protections from bullying. Early on in the novel, Greg foreshadows a focus on masculinity when he complains about having to write in a “diary” instead of a “journal.” Greg believes that drama class, singing, and participating in plays are all feminine activities. If Greg fails to appear masculine to his classmates, he becomes a target. Greg’s anxiety about the weightlifting unit relates to his fear of bullying. He strongly believes that bullies pick on kids who are weak or bad at sports. He wants to be physically strong, not for the health benefits, but so he can intimidate others. Greg associates wrestling Fregley and winning with social status. For possibly the first time, Greg’s plan to lift weights to ward off bullies is a plan based on doing hard work to improve himself. His prime motivation is still popularity, but weightlifting isn’t a shortcut, which marks some growth in how Greg approaches his problems.