Last Updated 28 Jan 2021

Nineteen Minutes

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The nature versus nurture conflict has continuously been a controversial subject for the public. People want to know what effects our development, personality, and especially our behavior, which seems to overlap the two. The nature side of the argument believes that a human is developed by the genes that are hard-wired into them. In other words, the reason why this human behaves the way he or she does today is because of the genes he or she were born with. On the other hand is nurture, which says a person is formed into the person they are by the environment.

This suggests that a person is born with no inborn tendencies and acquire traits off of the setting and the people they are around. In Nineteen Minutes, by Jodi Picoult, Peter Houghton, the main teenage character, suddenly snaps. Prior to Peter’s murders, he showed no aggression or violence whatsoever. Even his childhood best friend, Josie, who eventually became a member of the popular crowd in school, made efforts to back him up. The sudden outburst from Peter clearly demonstrated that his environment shaped him into the killer he became. An adolescent can be bent and twisted into a completely different person.

Hostile environments, like Sterling for Peter, could distort any type of personality and shape the person in undesirable ways. A famous psychologist, by the name of Sigmund Freud, believed that there was evil built in us all. People, after his time, ran with this naturist belief and also said that it is in one’s human nature to do wrong. It is a pessimistic view on the matter, however, they also say that the evil, or wrongdoing, may be brought out with time. Nonetheless, this side of the debate still thinks people are born as thieves, criminals, or in Peter’s case, murderers.

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Josie‘s mother, Alex, has a strong first impression, from Peter‘s childhood, as she recalls the day when Peter and Josie were playing with the firearms. Alex states, “I keep thinking about him as a little boy…sometimes I can still see him handing you that rifle-“ (Picoult 170). Alex references the time she walked in on Peter and Josie playing with the firearms, accidently left out by Peter’s father. She associates him as a little boy and relates it to why she thinks he killed his peers in high school. This is an easy way to blame Peter, despite the fact that he has been tested before by bullies, and never showed any aggression at the time.

Also, instead of blaming Peter, the finger should be pointed at Lewis Houghton. He is the one who made Peter knowledgeable about the guns at a young age, and also was irresponsible by leaving them out with kids around. If Peter’s biological genes were a factor, his aggression should have been presented at a younger age, when the bullying was excessive then too. In contrary to Freud’s theory on human development, comes behaviorism. This theory, which was created by psychologist John B. Watson, essentially states that every infant is born with a blank slate.

Meaning that any personality can be molded into what its educator or environment makes it to be. The most influential element of a child’s life is clearly the parenting. This makes the child-parent bond the most important relationship a child has. The way the child is shaped dictates how he or she will view the world, and more importantly themselves. The bullying was immediate for Peter. His first day, on the bus to school, resulted in a lost lunchbox and a few tears. The bullying continued and Peter’s parents were notified. How Lewis and Lacy Houghton handled the situation is vital.

After the unpleasant incident, in a conversation with Peter, Lacy replies, “I know about the lunch boxes. I know what’s been going on with [the bullying]…The next time it happens, you have to stick up for yourself. You have to, Peter, or I…I’m going to have to punish you” (Picoult 73). The sudden change in Peter’s guidance is drastic. This new approach for Peter suddenly makes violence acceptable. Even though Peter doesn’t show it right away, due to shyness, a seed is planted which ultimately grows into the violence he displayed the day of the massacre at Sterling High.

This type of shaping taught the child to become violent since he was not already. Due to the young age, the child will obey the parenting without question, or any conscious conflict. When a child reaches adolescence, physical maturity plays a major role in a human’s development. The dramatic changes of the body are a big change for any teenager. If one’s physical development becomes delayed like Peter’s, then it can become complicated to live an ordinary high school life. During adolescence is when one determines their identity, and with Peter’s difficulty to fit in, he had trouble finding who he was.

With the stress and anxiety building for Peter, he can’t even decipher if he is straight or not. The narrator states, “He just wanted to know what it was like to be among guys who were gay, and totally okay with it. He wanted to know if they could look at him and know, instantly, that Peter belonged“ (Picoult 231). It’s not that hitting puberty late was a bad thing for Peter, it just made it harder for him to uncover himself. He had to resort to the extreme by surrounding himself with homosexual men. Also, a run in with Mr. McCabe, a gay teacher at Sterling High, aided the discovery Peter needed to experience that he was straight all along.

The confusion and delay of puberty makes it easy for a low self esteem to take place. Bullying can be another significant factor in social development. A victim of bullying usually is incapable of having a high self esteem, and sustaining a healthy lifestyle. If bullying is suspected, it is important that the victim has someone to go to. In Peter’s case he had no one. He learned early in life that he had to stick up for himself, so his parents were ruled out the equation early. If a victim of bullying cannot seek help, the bullying can cause emotional, social, and even academic problems. Peter clearly had problems in these three areas.

Combine the pressure built from the bullying with no one to talk to, and Peter was a balloon ready to pop. However, Peter shows no remorse after the incident. When talking to his lawyer he states, “Why is everyone so upset that those jerks are dead? I mean people are crying over them…and they were assholes, Every one’s saying I ruined their lives, but no one seemed to care when my life was the one being ruined” (Picoult 134). It is clear to see the damages given to Peter over time. What once seemed like a kid who wouldn’t hurt a fly, is now a kid who shows no remorse and is forced to play survival of the fittest.

With Peter Houghton as a prime example it is evident that nurture takes its course. It’s not that Peter became one of the bullies, rather than he adapted to the dog eat dog world. Any parent imagines the potential their baby boy or girl can have when it is born. Some kids may be ignored, steered in the wrong direction, or bullied at school. No one can say what his or her child will be like before he or she is born. Nonetheless, every infant learns. What they learn makes up the world, but they must make up their selves first. The environment around a child is critical to the learning and shaping he or she endures.

Nineteen Minutes essay

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