After recently reading Andre ‘Dre’ Cooper’s delightful novel, Bullied, I started to wonder about the origin of the term. So I did a little research. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the original definition of the substantive ‘bully’ was “sweetheart,” and could be applied to either men or women. Of course, that was way back when, in the 1530s. That use of the word had its provenance in the Dutch boel (lover, brother), which was more than likely the diminutive of the Dutch word broeder (brother).
Like most words, the connotation of the word altered over the course of time. During the 17th century, the term was used to describe a “fine fellow.” Then it changed and came to refer to a “blusterer.” Shortly thereafter, a further reduction occurred and the term indicated a “harasser of the weak.” This latter usage may reflect a link between “lover” and “ruffian,” since in certain instances the term ‘bully’ defined the “protector of a prostitute,” perhaps referring to what nowadays would be called a pimp, which would explain the “harasser of the weak” meaning.
During the 19th century, the term assumed a positive connotation in the phrase “bully for you.” In this usage the term is synonymous with ‘good,’ as in “good for you.” In fact, President Teddy Roosevelt frequently used the term in this affirmative sense.
In today’s world, of course, the term ‘bully’ carries all sorts of adverse connotations. The contemporary definition of the word is “the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively dominate others.”
All that to say this: at the present adjunct in America, bullying is a problem of epidemic proportions. Every day, children of all ages are bullied by their peers, especially in school. But the problem affects adults, too. Adults bully others at work, on college campuses and in social gatherings. Even professional football players are guilty of bullying their teammates.
Since bullying is so pervasive, the question is how to stop it? Andre ‘Dre’ Cooper has a suggestion, one that might work. He has set the answer out in his novel entitled Bullied.
Bullied is the story of two young teenagers who live in the projects of a major city, where drugs, violence and crime are accepted as normal. Most of the inhabitants of the projects end up either dead from drug overdoses or in prison. Their names are Cory and Taron. The young men like others their age play video games and participate in football, which they hope will provide a means of escaping their underprivileged lives. Because they are young and slender and eschew brutality, they are the objects of constant bullying, not only by their peers but by older siblings.
Cory finds refuge in mystical dreams experienced while asleep. Taron isn’t so lucky. His only refuge is specious rationalization: things will get better simply because they can’t get much worse. But Taron’s attempts at philosophical validation fail him. Finally, he can’t take the bullying any more. So he steals his older brother’s gun and brings it to school. Confronted by his persecutors, Tom-Tom and Apple, he pulls the gun, threatening to use it. The bullies respond by pulling their own guns. Mexican stand-off.
As the precarious situation escalates emotionally, Taron realizes he cannot take the life of another human being. Placing the gun to his own head, he prepares to take his own life. A teacher talks him down, offering words of hope, a concept rarely discussed or contemplated in the projects.
In the aftermath, Cory and Taron find a way to help themselves and others. They concoct a program called Break Free. Break Free is much more than an empty slogan; it includes a phone app that allows victims to enlist help from fellow students. When summoned via the app, groups of students arrive to escort the bullied home.
On one level, Bullied is a simple coming of age story. On another level, it is a philosophical treatise of sublime complexity, one that evokes an emotional and intellectual response. And although the narrative is elegant in its simplicity, the author demonstrates a real knack for plucking just the right emotional chords. In that sense, Bullied is like a Wagnerian symphony, replete with leitmotifs and shifting tonal centers.
In essence, then, Bullied is a book that needs to be read by everyone. It’s that good.
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