The Big Orange Splot
By Daniel Manus Pinkwater, Scholastic
Mr. Plumbean lives on a street where all the houses look the same, and everyone likes it that way. Everything changes when a seagull splashes orange paint on Mr. Plumbean’s house. He decides to paint his house to reflect his colorful dreams. Although the neighbors are upset at first, one by one they talk to Mr. Plumbean who convinces them to use their imaginations to transform their houses to reflect their dreams.
Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
By Ariel Sykes
This is a tale about conformism and individualism, as Mr. Plumbean’s expression of creativity and individuality challenges his neighbor’s ideas about the importance of having “neat street.” By repainting his house to reflect his colorful dreams Mr. Plumbean breaks away from the conformity of his street. The neighbors are at first appalled, thinking that surely something must be wrong with Mr. Plumbean for not wanting a house that looks like all the other. As the neighbors talk with Mr. Plumbean, one by one, they too begin to embrace Mr. Plumbean’s idea of expressing their dreams through their houses. It is Mr. Plumbean’s actions that liberate his whole street, where the neighbors become proud of their homes.
When Mr. Plumbean’s neighbors ask him to paint his house, he does so but does not follow the spirit of their request. Mr. Plumbean chooses to disregard the unspoken understanding that the neighbors hold about having a “neat street.” This raises the question of why having a “neat street” in which all the houses look the same and lack personality is so important to the neighbors? Issues of individuality and conformity are nicely explored through seeing how the quiet conformity of the neighborhood is left unchallenged until Mr. Plumbean’s house is splashed with a splot of orange paint.
Mr. Plumbean chooses the route of self-expression, when repainting his house and in this way demonstrates his autonomy as an individual; he acts upon his own independent and authentic desire to paint his house as he desires. This choice, however, raises the issue of whether it is always better to be different and to act according to your own wishse. Are there circumstances where exercising freedom of expression becomes inappropriate? Or do the standards that society and cultural norms attempt to enforce need to be challenged and broken in order for a person to realize their own individuality?
Eventually Mr. Plumbean’s neighbors realize that being different allowed them to realize their own unique dreams. Thus, this book also celebrates of individuality, as the neighbors eventually appreciate each other’s choices to paint their houses as they wish. This raises the question of the importance and desirability of individuality. What are the benefits and risks of being an individual who rejects the values expressed by others?
The issue of conformity versus individuality was explored by philosophers in the Existentialist tradition. They believed that the pressure to conform to social norms had undermined the ability of people to develop their own unique abilities and personality. For the Existentialists, becoming an individual was the most important thing for a person to do. The Big Orange Spot allows children to explore this issue in a fun and entertaining manner.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
By Ariel Sykes
Expression of Individuality
At first all the houses on Mr. Plumbean’s street were the same.
Mr. Plumbean decides to be different by painting his house rainbow colors.
Conformity and Individuality
Freedom of Expression
When Mr. Plumbean painted his house to reflect his dreams, what effect did this have on his neighbors? Let’s make a list of the things the neighbors do:
At one point, the neighbors “decided they would pretend not to notice” the rainbow house of Mr. Plumbean.
Mr. Plumbean says that “My house is me and I am it. My house is where I like to be and it looks like all my dreams.”