El, Magwitch, and All of Us

Death and taxes – Benjamin Franklin said nothing in this world is as certain as these. What about our mortality? Could we then say that nothing is really to be as certain as death and food?

The primal need of daily sustenance is what makes all things living and breathing, the same.

Hence, when Chief Hopper in Stranger Things is seen placing some Eggo’s and Christmas cookies in the forest box, we immediately recognize the hint – El (aka Eleven or Jane) is still somewhere out there alive.

How the protagonist is so connected with Eggo’s begins when she first escaped from the Hawkins Lab. While hiding in the basement in Mike’s house, Eggo’s is the first meal she is given. She soon grew very fond of not just the food, but also her benefactor, Mike.

Mike’s Eggo’s means more than just an act of hospitality or kindness to El. Besides tending to El’s biological needs, Mike has, in consequence, also filled her emotional need. Hunger reveals the most vulnerable part of us. When denied food, a gift of daily fuel, however minuscule, appeals to the humility of the receiver and accentuates the humanity in the giver.

Cicero said that gratitude is the greatest of virtues. When El is capable of reciprocating Mike’s Eggo’s with gratitude, we know that humanity lives within this strange and unknown girl. It tones down the peculiar, possibly even sinister image of hers, especially when she hurls Mike’s bully off the cliff, or when she breaks the necks of a Hawkins Lab guard without lifting a finger.

Mike’s gift of Eggo’s therefore grants El the need to belong. Comfort food provides us such solace just by reminiscing, and this is precisely what Eggo’s has given El. It fills the gap of wanting to belong–a place to anchor and a source of security.

The same effect food has is also reflected in Dickens’ Great Expectations. The first meal of the novel takes place in the wilderness, where Magwitch meets Pip for the first time. In his desperation for food, Magwitch threatens and demands Pip to bring him some “wittles” – referring to food. Magwitch then wolfs down his meal like a dog, with “strong, sharp sudden bites.” His wild manner of gobbling and snapping up food brings out the beastly image of Magwitch. It augments the already dubious image he already has, by his threatening Pip into stealing food for him.

We begin to grow skeptical of this unknown character, until Magwitch reveals that underneath his grotesque hunger is a man capable of gratitude and generosity.

In an attempt to protect Pip, Magwitch first lies about being the one who has stolen the food instead of Pip. Many years on, he then bequeaths Pip a large sum of money in order for him to advance in life as a “gentleman.”

The mere provision of food becomes instrumental in the fate of Pip. By satisfying Magwitch’s hunger for food, Pip has also warmed the humanity in him.

Magwitch repaying Pip’s act of kindness and hospitality, like El’s to Mike’s, highlights the understanding of the philosophy: to do unto others as you would have do unto you. This is marked by one significant meal in both instances – a meal given in times of dire helplessness.

By revealing the humane quality in both the unknowns, El and Magwitch, it diminishes the character’s hostility and unveils a certain accessibility in them. What food has done for both El and Magwitch in both stories, testifies to the common basic need in all of us, which is the dependence to sustain not just biologically but also through relationships.