Showing posts with label Parenting. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Parenting. Show all posts

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Alice Walker and Parental Guilt

In the beginning of Alice Walker's “Everyday Use” we are introduced to Mama and her unconditional love for her two daughters, including the rather errant one named, Dee.  It is Dee that Mama is waiting for in the opening line that reads: “I will wait for her in the yard that Maggie and I made so clean and wavy yesterday afternoon.”  With Maggie as the other sister, this is Walker’s way of passing on to the reader that there is a sense of desperation in their expectancy.  The more you read, the more you realize how stressed the character of Mama is for the return of her daughter, Dee.  The opening paragraph further discloses that Mama views her yard as “comfortable” and an “extended living room”; every aspect of her home has to be in place for this return.  You have to ask yourself why?  Why all of the fuss, Mama?  Why are you placing your best efforts into appearing approachable and damn near spotless for your grown child's return home?  Shouldn't it be the other way around?

I believe that this opening illustrates the sense of disconnect within the story itself.  There is an obvious split between the two generations of women as a mother and a daughter.  Could you believe that a mother acknowledges that her child has changed so much that she must break her back to appease the transformation in her offspring?  Where does that come from?  Guilt of some sort?  Or is it simply a way to change and attract her child back to her roots?  Maybe it's a combination of guilt for not maintaining her child as well as her holding unshakable pride in her background.  Therefore, Mama has to polish the house and yard to remind Dee how wonderful home is.  However, at Dee's return, we learn that Dee is of a worldly perspective now.  She considers herself cultured and can easily frown upon the upbringing she tried to shed herself away from by leaving Mama's home.

This is only a quarter of the battle within this short story.  A fraction of all that's available.  Without a doubt Walker's story serves readers themes concerning upholding one's identity through inheritance (Dee returns home to take away an antique heirloom).  It is also a story meant to remind individuals never to lose sight of their background, even as they venture out into new worlds, conversations, and lives that differ from their roots.  So at the conclusion of Dee's visit, Mama expresses the simplicity behind being true to oneself by stating: "…But a real smile, not scared.  After we watched the car dust settle I asked Maggie to bring me a dip of snuff.  And then the two of us sat there just enjoying, until it was time to go in the house and go to bed.”   

Should you find time to read the story, you may find a simple story about a mother’s imperfectly unconditional love for her two adult daughters, Dee and Maggie, worth diving into.  I have to confess that the only thing I've read by Alice Walker besides “Everyday Use” is The Color Purple.  Who hasn't read that, right?  Once I tried reading Now is the Time to Open Your Heart by her and just could not get into the novel.  So I really need to read more of Walker, knowing that she has so much more to offer as an intensely copious author.  Shame on me!

I read “Everyday Use” a few years ago for a class and recently got to thinking about the push-and-pull relationship with my own mother, seeing that Walker's story features mothers and grown children.  As my own mother's eldest child, I used to feel like she treated me differently than my younger sister.  I’m not really sure if it was because I was the oldest, and therefore driven to be hyper responsible.  Or was it because I was a boy when she may have wanted a girl?  Or was it something different altogether?  I can imagine a scenario where she spotted something in me that required extra molding.  Yet... who knows?  Or do I care to truly know?  See, there are always these places we can’t go with family members and friends, places that seem dark, with the potential to cause disruptions to our relationships.  And while the conversation was more or less oblique than directly spoken of, recently my mother has sort of apologized for some of the things she’s done to have made me feel some of the ways I’ve felt growing up.  

In her estimation it had a lot to do with what she was dealing with herself during the time of my youth.  In any regard, Walker’s short story nudged at my thoughts and I dug up a little in the notes I wrote on it for myself to share and discover answers to any of my own looming questions.  The biggest answer is that we are who we are.  Our parents and their parents and their parents make us, whether we respond one way or the other to their degrees of generational child rearing.  And when we grow to blame and resent our parents for their attempts, we sometimes ignore the guilt that they suffer with.  Many times our parents are only working with what they have, and not just physically speaking.  We all do the best that we can with the tools and understanding that we were given, even our mothers and fathers.

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