Shades of Simon Gray By: Saachi Shah and Alexis Soucy

Biblical Allusions:

In the story Shades of Simon Gray by Joyce McDonald, there are many allusions to biblical events. The ten plagues of Egypt recur in Bellehaven during the time of Simon’s accident. Originally, the plagues in Egypt punished the Egyptians for their mistreatment of the Israelites. In Bellehaven, the plagues are to punish Simon and his friends for their cheating scheme. The second plague occurred when the frogs swarmed out of the river and covered Egypt. This similarly happens in the novel when the peepers, or little frogs, cover the town of Bellehaven the night Simon crashes his car. In fact, the frogs on his windshield are what cause his accident. They also come out of the river, just like the frogs in the Bible. Another recurring plague is the darkness. While in Egypt there was no light for 3 days, in Bellehaven crows cover the sky the entire time Simon is in his coma. Their dark wings let in little light and the people in town look up into a sea of black instead of blue during their stay.


Peer Pressure-

This article discusses an experiment done on teens, college students, and young adults about peer pressure. The people had to play a car racing video game that rewarded you with cash prizes the faster you completed it. The study found that when their friends were watching, the teenagers took greater risks in the game than when they played alone. The presence of their friends made their brains focus more on the reward than the risk. The older people didn't have a noticeable difference in how they played the game. This demonstrated how teens care much more about what their friends think and strive to please them, even if the friends aren't pressuring them directly. Simon in Shades of Simon Gray never even needed Devin to ask him to help with the project, just her role in it was enough to persuade him into doing his part. He took a risk he never would've taken otherwise because Devin was watching what he’d do, so he focused on her approval as the reward and ignored the risk of being caught and expelled, just like the teens playing the game.

College Pressure-

In the article, the author describes his gah school students as “pressure cookers”, meaning to say that adolescents are always juggling both their school life and their childhood. In this period they have a lot to do like learning to drive, trying to keep up a good GPA, and all the while, feeling that they need to get into the best college. This situation is very similar to the dilemma that causes Kyle, Danny, Devin, and Simon to engage in the project. All of them have their own sports and lives to pursue as well as their obligation to their family. All of this pressure to get into the right college and have the perfect academics often drives kids to do things that they know is wrong. This idea of academic pressure precipitated all of the chaos that came afterwards.

Character Study: Devin


Textual Evidence and Key Quotations-

Devin is poor and usually ashamed about it. Her family struggles with money due to her dad’s job and the number of kids. She often feels guilty about her shame because she knows her parents try as hard as they can.

“She was embarrassed. And even worse, she felt guilty for these traitorous thoughts. This was the man who had worked hard all his life to keep seven kids in shoes and to be able to take his family and his parents out to Pizza Hut once a month” (McDonald 52). [direct]

Devin has been dating the same boy for all of high school and it seems as though his manipulation of her has made her dependent on him. However, in her senior year she is finding herself more and more frustrated with Kyle and growing with her independence from him.

“Devin looked away. She hated it when Kyle made her feel stupid. And she was still steaming because he hadn't told her sooner about the conversation between Schroder and McCabe” (McDonald 49). [direct]

Devin is a very pretty girl, one that boys always seem to notice, like Simon and Kyle. Both of them find her irresistible.

“Kyle spotted Devin as she turned the corner. She stopped to shift her backpack on her shoulder. She had the most graceful way of walking Kyle had ever seen, even with the weight of the backpack tugging awkwardly at her shoulder” (McDonald 44). [direct]
“So why should he tell me anything? Devin took a step away from him. Her back was against the metal shelves. How could he tell her it because she was hot, because no guy could keep anything from her even if he tried?”(McDonald 115). [direct]

Devin originally couldn't focus on anything but her own future being in jeopardy, but as Simon stays in his coma she grows increasingly concerned about him over her own situation. It's an evolution of her character to become a selfless person instead of self-centered like before.

“She was too upset, too preoccupied thinking about what would happen if there was an investigation at the school. What if Simon hadn't gotten rid of all the evidence? She felt guilty for worrying about her own skin when Simon lay in a coma, but she couldn't seem to help it” (McDonald 51). [direct]
“And today, when she got home, Devin found two thick envelopes in the mailbox, one from Cornell, her first choice, and another from Middlebury. She knew without opening them that she'd been accepted by both. Yet she felt no excitement. Not even relief. Nothing” (McDonald 52). [indirect]
“That was when Devin began to sob uncontrollably… Simon was going to die and there was nothing she could do about it,” (McDonald 96). [indirect]

Devin’s self-centered, selfish nature turns into a more giving, selfless one over the course of the novel, especially with her beliefs about her future and college. At first, she feels her future would be completely unsuccessful if she didn't go to Ivy League school. Her life is centered around getting into college and escaping her life. However, the event with Simon changes her mind and she decides to go to community college to be close to the family she always wanted to leave. It was a complete change but she feels no regret.

“Every day she crossed off another square on her calendar with a red felt-tip pen. In the fall she would go to either Cornell or Middlebury,” (McDonald 18). [indirect]
“After school, Devin stopped by the community college to pick up an application. She felt not even the slightest twinge of regret as she sat on the bus… filling out forms,” (McDonald 237). [direct]

Devin is a playful and fun teenage girl. The stress of what happens with the cheating scheme and Simon takes that away for a while, but hopefully she can get back to be happy.

“When he came into the room, Devin spun around, grabbed an empty skewer, angled her arms and legs like a fencer, and thrust it toward him… Then she straightened up, holding the skewer end to end over her head with both hands, and grinned,” (McDonald 78-79). [indirect]


The theme of Shades of Simon Gray by Joyce McDonald is that often times people succumb to peer pressure despite their initial intentions. As the story progresses, this theme impacts more and more of the characters. In the beginning of the story, the reader is introduced to Simon Gray, a junior in high school who is reflecting on how drastically he has changed in the past year. Many of the changes that occurred happened because of the pressure that he was under during the past year. The reader finds out that Simon, Devin, Danny and Kyle have been participating in what they call, “the project”. As the story progresses, the idea of peer pressure develops into something more, it becomes the one thing that sets everything after Simon joins the project into motion. As the story goes on, the reader finds out more and more about how the situation that the four characters are in came to be. First, Simon is coerced into joining the project through the subtle moves of Devin dancing with him, her brushing her ankle on leg while Kyle talks to him about joining the project, and the added attention that he would get from her by participating. But, behind all of this manipulation, is Kyle covertly pressuring Devin to do these things. Through the progression of the story, the reader finds that maybe the strength of the character has nothing to do with how they get lured into doing things that wouldn't be in their nature to do. This theme impacts the characters in different ways. Peer pressure is most apparent in Simon's character. Simon gets lured into joining the project but ends up staying due to Kyle pressuring him into staying. Kyle is the mastermind behind the project and due to his cold nature, he is only in it for himself. For example, Kyle still feels, even during Simon’s tragic circumstances while he is in a coma, that the project was still the most important thing was the project. The way peer pressure affects Devin is how Kyle manipulates her into doing things like talking to Mr. McCabe, or keeping her in their relationship, or the small things like making her feel stupid. The common factor between all of these acts of peer pressure is Kyle.


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