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Fictional squalor

Oscar* the Grouch and his trash can. Oscar* Madison. What do they have in common? They're messy. And they're made-up. This page provides commentary on messy characters from books, theatre, television and film.

*There does seem to be a mysterious relationship between Oscars and mess. Oscar fish are extremely messy and tank needs to be cleaned often. Some Academy Award Oscars even took up residence next to a dumpster!

Pig Pen

The lovable dirt magnet of Charles Schulz's Peanuts cartoon strip, Pig Pen made his debut on July 13, 1954. His attitude to his messiness is laid out on the official Peanuts website: "Pig Pen is happily messy. He doesn't try to explain it, hide it, fight it. For him, it's just a fact of life."

On one rare occasion he actually cleaned up and headed outside, only to discover he was a "dust magnet" who could not stay clean for more than a few minutes. A costume at Halloween does Pig Pen little good, since everyone knows he's under it with his cloud of dust. Even in the winter, Pig Pen is an absolute mess and makes the world's dirtiest snowmen.

Pig Pen is kind of a nuisance. Everybody kind of likes Pig Pen. I don't like to draw him. He's only useful if you have him involved in dust and being dirty. I don't have many ideas on that; I ran out of these. And I don't even enjoy them. Now and then I think I ought to draw him, but my mind doesn't work in that vein, but people are always saying, 'Why don't you draw Pig Pen?' Charles Schulz

Oscar from Sesame Street

A green-furred grouch, Oscar has no nose, which is fortunate because he lives in a garbage can near the 123 Sesame Street apartment building. He loves trash and perhaps because of this, he is not afraid to let others into his home...many other characters have entered his trash can. One of these visitors was Bert, who tried to clean up the trash can, leading to a confrontation between the two. Not that this would be unusual, since Oscar is a grouchy, confrontational character. As Grover once said,"anybody is allowed [in Oscar's trash can, but] who would want to go in there? Huh?"

Heh,Heh,Heh I love the smell of trash and junk in the morning Oscar

Oscar Madison

Walter Matthau's signature role was that of professional sportswriter and amateur slob Oscar Madison in the The Odd Couple, a role he originated on Broadway in the Neil Simon play and then played in the 1968 movie version opposite Jack Lemmon.

Oscar Madison:
Life goes on, even for those of us
who are divorced, broke, and sloppy.

Oscar Madison:
Who wants food?

Murray:
What do ya got?
Oscar Madison:
I've got brown sandwiches and green
sandwiches. Which one do ya want?
Murray:
What's the green?
Oscar Madison:
It's either very new cheese, or very
old meat.
Murray:
I'll take the brown.

Roy:
His fridge had been out of order for two
weeks now. I saw milk standing in there
that wasn't in the bottle.

Olive Madison

In the mid-1980's, Neil Simon rewrote his classic comedy as The Odd Couple (female version). The show premiered on Broadway in 1985. The two main characters were renamed Olive Madison and Florence Unger, and instead of poker, they got together with their friends for a weekly game of Trivial Pursuit. Olive Madison is a divorcee who freely admits to being a slob.

Olive:
What's the point of it [being clean]? When
you're dead, they throw dirt on you anyway

Olive:
I leave a mess when I read a book.

Christina Yang

Cristina Yang (played by Sandra Oh) is a first year intern in ABC's Grey's Anatomy. In the episode Much Too Much which first screened on November 27, 2005, Cristina is given the key to the pristine, zen-like apartment of her boyfriend, Dr. Preston Burke (played by Isaiah Washington). She is unnerved by the clear surfaces and order, and tells her fellow intern, Meredith, "There's no stuff to go through. It's a freak show. I mean, you can do surgery in here. Oh, he arranged his books using the Dewey Decimal system! Mer, I'm scared."

But when Dr. Burke (and the viewers) finally get to see inside Cristina's apartment, the difference couldn't be more stark. It is wall-to-wall piles: piles of clothes, dishes, journals, books, and other assorted clutter. As Grey's creator Shonda Rhimes puts it: "She's a slob, and he's a neat freak. That's what the whole relationship is all about." Much Too Much was written by Gabrielle Stanton and Harry Werksman and was directed by Wendy Stanzler.

This is where I live. My mother decorated it. I don't do laundry, I buy new underwear. See under the table? Six months of magazines I know I'll never read but I won't throw out. I don't wash dishes, vacuum, or put the toilet paper on the holder. I hired a maid once ... She ran away crying. The only things in my fridge are water, vodka, and diet soda, and I don't care... But you do. Still think living together is a good idea?Cristina

Momma Boone

Momma Boone was a character in the first episode of the third season of Nip | Tuck. Played by Kathy Lamkin (who received an Emmy nomination for her remarkable performance), Momma Boone is a morbidly obese woman who's been confined to her couch for so long (three years) with back pain that she is literally stuck there— her skin has become grafted to the fabric.

Although Momma Boone's attachment to her couch is the reason for Dr Troy and Dr MacNamara to become involved, the episode also addresses her relationship with her cluttered, messy home. Momma declines to answer Dr McNamara's questions about how she toilets herself, so we can infer that her home is in 4th degree squalor. The area surrounding the couch is littered with opened food packages and reading material, while the background shows furniture stuffed to bursting with more clutter. We see the bottom line of a tapestry hung on the wall: "Loves Me".

Momma Boone's house is in stark contrast to the recently attacked Dr Troy's pristine, minimalist apartment, which he is shown cleaning obssessively. The female detective investigating his case tells him that his compulsively clean apartment with its rigidly perfect arrangements shows a desire to control the uncontrollable.

Momma Boone, like many squalor survivors, displays "all-or-nothing" thinking. In one scene, Momma tries to explain to the doctors how she let her situation get so bad. A former "neatnik", she is painfully aware of the decline of her household into squalor. Momma repeatedly vowed to scrub down her whole house with Formula 409 "tomorrow", only to find, when tomorrow arrived, that she was overwhelmed and exhausted at the mere thought of doing it all, and as a result did nothing.

Her character was likely inspired by the 2004 news story of 4'10" 478lb Florida resident Gayle Laverne Grinds, who died before the surgery to remove her from her couch could be completed. Gayle had lain on her couch for six years—after two painful recoveries from breaking her left leg, she was just too afraid to risk breaking it again. When she was discovered, hospitalised, and died in 2004, she was just a few week's shy of her 40th birthday.

Nip | Tuck's Momma Boone met the same fate as her real life counterpart.

Screen capture of Momma Boone episode of Nip | Tuck

Dr McNamara evaluates Momma Boone in her predicament.

Miss Havisham & Mrs Jellyby

In Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Miss Havisham, jilted on what should have been her wedding day, and spending the rest of her life in bitter resentment, lives in a rotting mansion. She represents the extremes of a character tied to environment. Never seeing sunlight or venturing outside of her dusty rooms, Miss Havisham is a warped and ultimately destructive character, showing the danger of isolation.

It was spacious, and I dare say had once been handsome, but every discernible thing in it was covered with dust and mould, and dropping to pieces. The most prominent object was a long table with a tablecloth spread on it, as if a feast had been in preparation when the house and the clocks all stopped together. An epergne or centrepiece of some kind was in the middle of this cloth; it was so heavily overhung with cobwebs that its form was quite undistinguishable; and, as I looked along the yellow expanse out of which I remember its seeming to grow, like a black fungus, I saw speckled-legged spiders with blotchy bodies running home to it, and running out from it, as if some circumstances of the greatest public importance had just transpired in the spider community.Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Miss Havisham was supposedly inspired by the real-life Eliza Emily Donnithorne of Sydney, Australia who, jilted by her intended on her wedding day, insisted the wedding feast remained untouched, put the family home into suspended animation, and wandered the unkempt and overgrown gardens in her wedding gown.

[Miss Havisham]

Miss Havisham.

In another of Dicken's novels, Bleak House, the character Mrs. Jellyby is more interested in projects designed to benefit Africa than in caring for her own house and children. Dickens is unsympathetic in his portrayal of the misplaced priorities of people who care passionately about distant causes, while neglecting the needs of their "nearest and dearest".

Mrs Jellyby is partly based upon Caroline Chisholm, also of Sydney, Australia. Caroline tried to juggle her home duties with her work to help female migrants. Her husband supported her ideas but Mrs. Chisholm was often criticised by others for neglecting her children.

Poor Mr. Jellyby, who very seldom spoke and almost always sat when he was at home with his head against the wall, became interested when he saw that Caddy and I were attempting to establish some order among all this waste and ruin and took off his coat to help. But such wonderful things came tumbling out of the closets when they were opened--bits of mouldy pie sour bottles, Mrs. Jellyby's caps, letters, tea, forks, odd boots and shoes of children, firewood, wafers, saucepan-lids, damp sugar in odds and ends of paper bags, footstools, blacklead brushes, bread, Mrs. Jellyby's bonnets, books with butter sticking to the binding, guttered candle ends put out by being turned upside down in broken candlesticks, nutshells, heads and tails of shrimps, dinner-mats, gloves, coffee- grounds, umbrellas--that he looked frightened, and left off again. Charles Dickens, Bleak House
[Mrs Jellyby]

Mrs Jellyby and her family.

The Seven Dwarves

The seven dwarves are dwelling in their own squalor when Cleanie Snow White comes to their rescue. Seeking shelter in a dirty little house in the woods, she immediately cleans it from top to bottom.

To see through the front window of the thatch-roofed Tudor cottage, she must wipe the dust away. On entry, everything inside is smaller than normal and messy, so she assumes it is the home of children: "Why there's seven little chairs, there must be seven little children. And from the look of this table, seven untidy little children."

She observes the messy dining table, a pick axe stuck in the table, the dusty fireplace, cobwebs everywhere, a pile of dirty dishes, and an unused broom.

To surprise them, in an enchanting scene, the dusty, messy house is straightened up and cleaned (using her years of experience as a maid), with the help of the animals. "Then, maybe they'll let me stay," she wishes.

The dishes are washed, the room is tidied up, the fireplace is cleaned, the laundry is scrubbed and hung to dry, and Snow White uses the broom. While they all clean, she sings (and whistles) Whistle While You Work.

Just whistle while you work
And cheerfully together we can tidy up the place.
So hum a merry tune, it won't take long,
When there's a song, to help you set the pace.

...The dwarves are surprised to see a totally clean, orderly house, in an amusing sequence:

Look. The floor, it's been swept. Hey, chair's been dusted. Our window's been washed. Gosh, our cobwebs are missing. Why, why, why the whole place is clean!...Sink's empty. Hey! Someone stole our dishes! They ain't stole. They're hid in the cupboard. My cup's been washed!

The Cat in the Hat

The Cat in the Hat, with a little assistance from Thing 1 and Thing 2, creates an awesome amount of mess in The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss.

For an encore, the cat makes a little pink bathtub grime go a long way (bathtub to dress to wall to shoes to rug to basically all over the house) in The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, a classic example of zig-zag cleaning.

A big long pink cat ring! It looked like pink ink! And I said, "Will this ever come off? I don't think!" "Have no fear of that ring," laughed the Cat in the Hat. "Why, I can take cat rings off tubs. Just like that!" Do you know how he did it? WITH MOTHER'S WHITE DRESS! Now the tub was all clean, but her dress was a mess!