The View from Saturday
by E. L. Konigsburg
Julian obviously never got the memo about sixth grade, because it's like he's begging to be ostracized. Seriously, if you looked up "Most Likely to Be a Social Pariah" in the fifth-grade yearbook, you'd see a picture of someone who looked a lot like Julian.
Here, we'll let Ethan tell you about it in his own words. Ethan, who's no social butterfly himself, is totally horrified that Julian "(a) introduces himself and then (b) extends his hand to be shaken while (c) wearing shorts and (d) knee socks and (e) holding a genuine leather book bag on (f) the first day of school" ("Ethan".21). Also? He has a British accent and uses words like "indeed."
He Learned Magic There, Too
Of course, there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for all this weirdness. We find out that Julian is East Indian, that he was educated in a British boarding school, and that he's been living on a cruise ship for some unspecified amount of time. Not exactly your average resident of a small town in upstate New York.
Here's the other thing about Julian: He is totally uninterested in conforming. He literally does not care about fitting into some Lord of the Flies-style playground hierarchy. When Hamilton Knapp writes "I am a ass" (way to misuse articles, Ham), Julian doesn't fight back, tattle, cry, or even seem to get very upset. He rewrites it into an awesome quote from Buckminster Fuller's Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, a really heady book about how to share the planet's limited resources. In super simple terms, the book is about playing nice with others.
And playing nice with others is something that Julian specializes in. He doesn't play into Hamilton Knapp's schoolyard power struggles, but he cares a lot about other people and a lot about having friends. In fact, he cares so much that he seeks out three like-minded sixth-graders—sort of the way Mrs. Olinski selects her team, in fact—and lures them to a tea party at his house.
It's Not Creepy. Really.
Like his dad, Julian has special insight into people. He never explains how he chooses The Souls, but he somehow finds the three people in his class who—like him—are passengers on a journey. In bringing them together, he helps these three individuals become more than the sum of their parts. He helps them become The Souls.
In addition to all his other admirable character traits, Julian is kind. He's like, Gandhi-levels of kind. He tries to erase "cripple" to protect Mrs. Olinski; he helps Nadia train Ginger. Even when he has the opportunity to embarrass two of his bullies, he does not. It doesn't even seem difficult for him. He lays out his option and then says, simply, "I made my decision" ("Julian").
Notice that Julian doesn't tell us what that decision is. We have to figure out for ourselves later that he decides to do the right thing—the kind thing—and save Arnold by substituting the non-poisoned treats. Julian is such a good person that he doesn't even brag about his own awesomeness.
So, why is Julian so much more amazing than any other sixth grader at Epiphany—or, really, anywhere ever? It's at least partly because he grew up on a cruise ship. Mr. Singh explains: 'It is a skill he learned when we lived on the cruise ship, Mrs. Olinski. He learned to be a passenger. He learned to read the ocean by the cupful. He also learned to regard each port of call as part of the journey and not as destination. Every voyage begins when you do'" (10.6).
Okay, that's a little cryptic. What Mr. Singh means is that Julian knows how to stop and smell the roses. He's not always rushing to reach the finish line, to find the right answer, to get the letter in the mail, or anything like that. He enjoys the journey, and he knows that the important things happen when you're on your way somewhere.
That's probably why Julian doesn't feel any need to change to fit in with the other sixth graders. He remains true to who he is, and who he wants to be: "'a magician'" and "'an artist'" ("Ethan Explains the B and B Inn".257). So here's another characteristic to add to "wise," mature," and "kind": brave.
Sixth Grade Surprise
Okay, great. Julian is wise beyond his years. He's kind. He's brave. He's extremely knowledgeable about Native American tribes. He's basically what every parent and teacher thinks an 11-year-old should be.
But come on. How many sixth graders do you know who are like this? Really, how many twelfth graders do you know with Julian's maturity? We here at Shmoop can barely summon Julian's level of poise on our good days, and you don't want to see our bad days.
It's pretty obvious that Julian isn't exactly a realistic character. But here's the question: Is he supposed to be? And does it even matter?
It doesn't seem like Konigsburg is going for gritty realism here. The world of The View From Saturday is a little idealized and a lot more full of surprising—but somehow, totally normal-seeming—coincidences. So Julian's not exactly like a normal sixth-grader. Well, The Souls aren't exactly a normal sixth-grade Academic Bowl team—and we wouldn't want them to be.Timeline