The Significance of Friendship in IT and Stranger Things

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Friendship: a relationship of mutual affection between people, a stronger form of interpersonal bond than association, a combination of loyalty, love, respect, and trust. This is the basic definition that we as a society recognize but that statement does not fully define what friendship is. Looking further into the concept of friendship, the true meaning of “friend” can be analyzed, the effects of friendship on children’s social development can be looked at, and we can see how friendship powers characters like those in Stranger Things and IT to defeat the terrors they face.

In Stranger Things “Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street”, the Duffers show Eleven saying “What is friend?” (Season 1, Episode 2). Most people have a basic understanding of what a friend means to them and a universal definition does exist, but if one were to really dig deep and analyze this concept they would find a multitude of answers. (Hall 7). An apparent fact is that friendship is a symmetric relation “entered into voluntarily, and founded upon shared values or experiences” (Hall 7). A is not a friend to B unless B is also a friend to A. It is reasonable to suppose that friendship is a universal human phenomenon that occurs in all societies. An article by Uri Leibowitz states “friendship is non-exclusive” in the sense that one may have several friends; and, although friendship is not the same as other social relations two people may have the relation of friends as well as another social relation (Leibowitz 99).

An analysis of the characteristics and nature of friendship should be done as well. A good place to begin this enquiry is to focus on the relation between friendship and happiness. People recognize the phenomenon that the extent to which we value something is influenced by our own awareness of the value others attribute to it. It is one thing to believe that a human life is valuable and another to value that specific life itself as in friendship. For example, people can be almost indifferent to a human tragedy involving the deaths of hundreds in a faraway place but when we see one of own mourn or lose life we find it almost impossible to remain unmoved. When we are confronted with the value a person’s life once had, we sense a loss of something valuable. The realization of the extent to which we value something being influenced by our own awareness of the value others attribute to it suggests that recognizing that others value our own lives may impact our self-worth. This, in turn, shows us the link between friendship and happiness. Each friend values the other and vice versa therefore each friend’s awareness of value will have an impact on each one’s self-value. If all humans seek happiness, then this relation explains why friendship is a universal happening. Other than improving our self-value and bringing us happiness, friendship is a way to have a support system of trust and people to lean on. In season two of stranger things Mike gives a perfect example of how friends should be there for us when he is there for will. In that episode, “Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak”, he is able to listen to and relate with Will when Will feels like no one else would understand, and then Mike reassures him by saying “if we’re going crazy, then we’ll go crazy together, right?” (Season 2, Episode 2). As Eddie thinks to himself about his friends in IT, he realizes that friends are “people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart” (King 942). A quality friendship would include these characteristics and also intimacy of sharing feelings, loyalty, high levels of prosocial behavior, and low levels of conflict or rivalry.

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An article from Association for Psychological Science states that “high quality friendships may enhance children’s development” (Berndt 7). Research on this has shown that the friendship quality most often indirectly effects children in positive ways. Some effects can include fostering self-esteem, improving social adjustment, and increasing their ability to cope with stressors. A child that grows around another with positive qualities will be influenced by those good qualities. The skills gained through influence help a child better adapt in the social setting. Their behavior improves and they adapt desirable characteristics. Unfortunately, the same goes for the opposite situation. If a child has a high quality friendship with someone that has undesirable characteristics, the child will be influenced by those as well. In season three of Stranger Things the episode “Chapter Two: The Mall Rats”, Nancy Wheeler says “we ask for forgiveness, not permission” (Season 3, Episode 2). Now, she may not have invented this particular phrase, but it is the perfect encapsulation of her character. Instead of sticking to demeaning tasks given by the newspaper staff, she takes initiative and ends up uncovering a sinister supernatural conspiracy. 

What her friends can be influenced by here is her determination and strength. Many other characters in both Stranger Things and IT have desirable qualities that each friend is able to feed off of throughout their story. Bill Denbrough also known as Stuttering Bill, is called Big Bill out of respect for his leadership. Mike Hanlon is knowledgeable, watchful, and courageous as he stays back in Derry after the horrors that occur. Ben Hanscom is also courageous. Eddie Kaspbrak, even after knowing he has no physical illness, hang on to the belief in his illness and the “medicine” to cure it. Those beliefs become the source of his strength when the Losers battle IT both times. Beverly Marsh shows bravery when facing her father and has a deep love for those around her. Her love is what keeps the Losers together when they are falling apart. Richie Tozier has a great sense of humor that brings some light into the darkness around the kids. Stan Uris was neat and orderly, and even though IT defied the foundation he believed in he stepped up to fight it. In Stranger Things, Mike, like Bill, can be seen as the leader. Dustin is super intelligent. Lucas brings in a clear head and always reality checks his friends. Eleven is a quick learner and also cares deeply about her newfound friends. The characters certainly all have many other desirable characteristics but those are their strongest that would have the greatest influence.

So, how does friendship power the characters of both IT and Stranger Things to defeat the evil they face? With the knowledge of how friendship can influence children in a positive way, we can assume that when everyone if feeding off of each other the characteristics are strengthened. With heightened determination, passion, intelligence, and other strengths they become, in a sense, unbreakable. The fear may still be present when you “finally have to face the thing in the dark” but the will to defeat the monster that has caused them so much pain is stronger than that fear (King 116). After the analysis of friendship it should seem clear how friendship can make people powerful.

In conclusion, friendship goes much deeper than what some may think. We know a basic societal definition of friendship exists but that does not go deep enough. With further analysis we see that friendship is a symmetrical and non-exclusive relationship that gives people a higher sense of self value. This heightened sense of self-value can be related to a person’s happiness. Friendships are high quality when positive factors, like intimacy and loyalty, are present and negative factors, like conflicts, are low. Through high quality friendships, children are influenced by the desirable characteristics of their companion. In Stranger Things and IT, it is the influence of those characteristics that become heightened when in a group of determined friends and the act of defeating evil becomes possible. It is the strength of these characters that draws the audience in to follow their story and experience through words or scenes what they have to go through to make it to the other side.

Works Cited

  1. Berndt, Thomas J. “Friendship Quality and Social Development.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 11, no. 1, 2002, pp. 7–10., doi:10.1111/1467-8721.00157.
  2. “Chapter Two: The Weirdo On Maple Street.” Stranger Things, season 1, episode 2, Netflix, 15 July 2016.
  3. “Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak” Stranger Things, season 2, episode 2, Netflix, 27 October 2017.
  4. “Chapter Two: The Mall Rats” Stranger Things, season 3, episode 2, Netflix, 4 July 2019.
  5. Hall, Sarah Marie. “Family, Friendship and Intimacy: A Relational Approach to Everyday Austerity.” Progress In Human Geography, vol. 43, 2019, pp. 29–68., doi:10.1007/9783-030-17094-3_2.
  6. King, Stephen. IT. New York, NY: Viking Press, 1986. Pg. 942.
  7. King, Stephen. IT. New York, NY: Viking Press, 1986. Pg. 116.
  8. Leibowitz, Uri D. “What Is Friendship?” Disputatio, vol. 10, no. 49, Jan. 2018, pp. 97–117., doi:10.2478/disp-2018-0008.
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