Follow Dr. Coplan on Facebook
Follow Dr. Coplan on Facebook

Follow Dr. Coplan on Twitter
Follow Dr. Coplan on Twitter

Follow Dr. Coplan on YouTube
Follow Dr. Coplan on YouTube

Whose story is it, anyway?

James Coplan, MD, continues his review of the Office of the Child Advocate report on the Newtown shootings, and concludes that although the report centers on Adam Lanza, his mother Nancy was actually the protagonist.


Adam Lanza killed his mother, 20 elementary school children, six staff, and himself. It would appear, on the surface anyway, that the story of the Newtown massacre is “about” him. But is it really?

Think back to High School English class. There, you were introduced to the concept of the “protagonist.” The word comes down to us from Ancient Greece, and means – roughly speaking – “the one who drives the action forward.” The actions of the protagonist set the plot in motion and keep the story moving – like the mainspring of a wristwatch.

Home Alone, Jurassic Park, and Peter Pan are examples of the genre of “child hero” tales, in which children are cast as protagonists. In each instance, the child (or children) are more clever than the bumbling adults, and save the day: Kevin defeats the burglars, Lex and Tim figure out how to bring the computer grid back on line, saving everyone from being devoured by dinosaurs, and of course Peter Pan defeats Captain Hook. That’s what makes such stories so appealing, but that’s also what puts them into the category of fantasy. The mirror image of the “child hero” genre is the child protagonist with evil or supernatural powers (for example: The Sixth Sense, The Shining, and Rosemary’s Baby).

In real life, however, infants and young children do not drive the course of events. Rather, they are acted upon by adults. Whether lovingly cared for or neglected and abused, children are dependent upon adults for their very survival until well into their teen years. For the bulk of the Newtown narrative, Adam Lanza was a child. A troubled child, to be sure. But a child nonetheless. So, although the story is nominally about Adam Lanza, he cannot have been the protagonist. Who, then, was driving events – the person without whom there would have been no story?

In reading the report of the Office of the Child Advocate it quickly becomes clear that Adam Lanza’s mother, Nancy Lanza, was the protagonist. It was she who pulled Adam out of school (in 8th grade and again in High School). It was she who turned aside proper psychiatric care for him at least twice, and it was she who placed him in a “parentified” role (OCA, p. 85), unburdening herself to him and seeking his support, thereby turning the parent-child relationship on its head. Even as Adam Lanza entered adulthood, Nancy Lanza remained the dominant figure in the drama. (In a future post we will discuss the concept of enmeshment, and make the case that Adam Lanza may have been incapable of functioning as an autonomous individual, due to the depth of his apparent enmeshment with his mother.)

What do we know about Nancy Lanza?

More on that next time. Until then.

Join the conversation on Facebook!

Whose story is it, anyway?James Coplan, MD, continues his review of the Office of the Child Advocate report on the…

Posted by James Coplan, MD – Developmental Pediatrician / Autistic Spectrum Disorders on Tuesday, February 10, 2015







James Coplan, MD is an Internationally recognized clinician, author, and public speaker in the fields of early child development, early language development and autistic spectrum disorders. Stay connected, join Dr. Coplan on Facebook and Twitter.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Enter the answer as digit(s) (not words) *


Blog Archives