Living in the Heart of Kitty Pryde

by Sigrid

Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Carl Sandburg, Chicago

There are some people you meet, and you can see they are heavily invested in a role. But you get the idea that, underneath the part they play, there’s something more in them. Something hard, a core that doesn’t yield. These people are not defined by what’s outside them but they define themselves according to some internal measure we are usually not allowed to see. I’d say that many writers have depicted Ollie Queen this way. Captain America — for all that he is named after a specific role — is also a man whose motivations are internally generated. These internally motivated people get their strength from something they’ve pulled into themselves and made their own. Kitty Pryde is one of these.

Kitty Pryde, mainstay character of the X-Men, frequently tells people the ethical lessons she has learned from being a member of the team. She tells others what it means to her — in Uncanny X-Men #200, in Uncanny X-Men Annual #9, in the “Mechanix” storyline of Xtreme X-Men. She’s a Chicago kid. She’s a Cubs fan. She’s a hometown girl, a Jewish kid from the North Shore, no matter where in space or time she may be.

It’s clear to Marvel comics readers how important Kitty Pryde’s religion and ethnic identity are to her. Kitty Pryde is Jewish. Her grandparents were incarcerated by the Germans during the Holocaust. She lost relatives there. Kitty is not seen to practice her religion much in the comics, but she asserts her ethnic identity time and again. Kitty Pryde uses her cultural heritage as a deliberate metaphor for the fact that she is a mutant. In Uncanny X-Men #210, Kitty faces down an angry mob and challenges their mutant-bashing by comparing it to the Nazi actions against Jews. In “Mechanix,” (Xtreme X-Men vol. 4) Kitty does this again. In Uncanny X-Men #199 Kitty learns more of her family Holocaust history at a ceremony she attends with Magneto. She comes across to me as the sort of geeky liberal Reform Jews I know through science fiction fandom. Someone who knows the rituals, who can recite the Sh’mah and the Kaddish, someone who can understand the Yiddish of their grandparents.

“And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.”

Carl Sandburg, Chicago

When we meet Kitty in Uncanny X-Men #129, she’s from Deerfield, IL, a suburb on the northern side of Chicago. This is meaningful geography for a Chicagoan. The North Shore is affluent, it’s motivated, it’s cultured — and it has a reputation for having higher-than-average numbers of people identifying as Jewish. But the North Shore bleeds into the North Side, into Bryn Mawr and Andersonville, into West Ridge and Loyola University. While today these neighborhoods are some of the most diverse in the city proper, with some of the highest education levels, they weren’t in 1980. In 1980, Rogers Park housed Loyola University in a neighborhood comprised of working class people of color. Andersonville, today a gay and lesbian arts neighborhood, was historically home to most of the North Side’s cops and fire fighters. When Chris Claremont gave Kitty a home he picked a Jewish suburb and he picked the working-class, striving North Side.

We see that this mattered to Kitty. Later, while attending the University of Chicago, Kitty works at a bar called the Belles of Hell. She states that she loves it because it’s a bar for cops and firefighters. She relates to the bravado and camaraderie of these groups of people who volunteer their lives for others. It’s something the X-Men fostered in her, sure, but it’s also something she admired from her youth, taking the train into the city, taking the El through the North Side. When we meet Kitty, she’s a kid. Just a kid, yet she thinks backing down and leaving her new friends is unthinkable.

Over the years, Kitty has never backed down. She challenged Magneto and was nearly killed for it. She fought the Brood with laughter and sarcasm. Faced down Loki. Twice. Talked the Phoenix out of the suicidal destruction of creation. Was nearly killed by demons, by the Mauraders, by countless enemies. Kitty faced down Sentinels and micro-Sentinels. She fought Bogan, she fought her childhood demon — Emma Frost — she fought and faced death over and over. And when, at the end, she couldn’t get out of it, Kitty Pryde had courage and faith and hope. Even when it was clear she wasn’t going to escape. Kitty Pryde has never backed down.

“Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,”

Carl Sandburg, Chicago

More than any of this, though, Kitty Pryde is a Cubs fan.

The North Siders, The Chicago Cubs, are sometimes called the losing-est team in baseball. They haven’t won the World Series in over one hundred years. This is attributed to various things — the shape and design of Wrigley Park, the poor management decisions over the years, and, of course, The Curse of the Billy Goat. But that’s not the point. The point is, there are people in Chicago — and all over — who manage to not give up hope.

After a hundred years.

When Kitty Pryde is down, when the odds are insane, when it’s her turn, when she’s all that’s left, Kitty reminds herself of two things — she’s an X-Man, and a Cubs fan. She tells people she’s a Cubs fan like it’s a threat, a warning to not push her too far. It’s a mantra to remind herself of who she is, where she comes from, and what that means. Being a Cubs fan is about never backing down, no matter how big you’re losing. It’s about knowing that next time, with hard work and good luck, things will go better. Being a Cubs fan is about holding your head high when everyone laughs and thinks less of you. It is about stupid pride and stupid hope and faith in one’s team above all else.

Kitty Pryde is proud of her X-Men. She’s proud to be a mutant. As she tells the mutant-hating crowd in Uncanny X-Men #210, she’s used to being despised and hated for what she is. For things she can’t help — being Jewish, being a Cubs fan. After that start in life, being a hated and feared mutant, Kitty implies, is almost a walk in the park.

Email: sigrid @ fantasticfangirls.org
Twitter: sigridellis

  • Caroline

    I adore this! I always thought it was cool that, while a lot of comics characters have a fairly vague and/or stereotypical background, Kitty is from a very specific place, and that she has referred back to it so often over te years. Excellent work.

  • http://throughthebrush.wordpress.com/ Jennifer

    Oh, this is lovely. (Though I’m sure my Chicago-born college roommate would grumble that Kitty doesn’t REALLY get to say she’s from Chicago.) The part about the Cubs is especially striking, and fits her character very, very well. Excellent, unique analysis.