The Bullies in Jodi Picoult’s novel “Nineteen Minutes,” are almost the easiest to identify in the story. From almost the very beginning, they make their presence known and make victim Peter Houghton’s life hell. Foremost of these bullies and the main antagonist in the story is Matt Royston.
Matt is the total alpha-male of his high school. He is the star of the school ice hockey team and all around popular jock. This celebrity status seems to give him the God given right to tease, haze and bully undesirables and unpopular kids and backed by his entourage of friends and fellow jocks, he bullies because he believes he can. Peter, being the perfect victim, falls into his line of sight straight away.
Since Matt and Peter are in school together since Kindergarten, that’s when the bullying begins. Matt and his companion Drew, who I will go a little more into in the next post, make Peter’s life a misery. In the early years, they are constantly teasing him and pushing, shoving and elbowing him in the playground. As the boys grow older, the bullying intensifies to stuffing Peter’s head down toilets and by junior high school, it becomes emotional as well as physical. Matt leads the others in calling Peter “fag” and “homo” to the point that Peter begins to question his sexual orientation.
By high school, Matt ascends to his throne as the popular jock and while he throws his brute privilege around targeting all whom he considers inferior, Peter is still the main target of his onslaught. Peter still gets thrown against lockers and punched while walking down the school hall. In their sophomore year, he beats Peter up because he thinks that he has designs on his girlfriend. Even after that, the bullying doesn’t stop.
It is here where we can see further into Matt Royston. Being the popular jock he has a girlfriend, Josie, who was Peter’s only friend in grade school. As the story unfolds we can see that Matt treats Josie bad. In one instance, he causes Josie to break her leg, which he justifies with the claim that he loves her so much, he can’t bear other boys giving her attention. Although he never knows, he gets Josie pregnant when one night he insists on having unprotected sex. His behaviour towards Josie is as abusive as his bullying of Peter.
In the end, Matt gets his just desserts when Peter gets his revenge for all the bullying he has suffered for nearly twelve years by shooting up the school. Matt manages to escape the initial hail of bullets and takes Josie with him to try to hide from the rampaging Peter. However, Peter tracks them down in the boys’ locker room. One of his guns falls out of his rucksack and Josie picks it up. Matt begins yelling at her to shoot Peter but instead, she turns and shoots him in the stomach. Bewildered and lying wounded, Peter finishes him off with a round to the head.
It is very easy to say that Matt deserved to die because of his arrogant attitude but it’s just as easy to say that no one deserves to have their life taken in the way his was. To be extremely blunt, Matt Royston was a dick. Like so many teenagers who feel they should be seen as royalty because they play sports, he acted like the entire school should bow down to him and that it was his duty to bully undesirables from the lower castes of school social structures. “Nineteen Minutes” shows what can happen if this goes unchecked.
Next post: Other Bullies from 19 Minutes
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