Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dorothy Allison - "River of Names"

This entire story is about a young woman's feelings of shame toward her family.  She either lies about some of the details that she chooses to tell or simply doesn't reply to others - over and over again, the narrator chooses not to say a word about her family dynamics:
""What did your grandmother smell like?"
I lie to her the way I always do, a lie stolen from a book.  "Like lavender," stomach churning over the memory of sour sweat and snuff." (Allison 54)
"I've these pictures my mama gave me - stained sepia prints of bare dirt yards, plank porches, and step after step of children - cousins, uncles, aunts; mysteries.  The mystery is how many no one remembers.  I show them to Jesse, not saying who they are, and when she laughs at the broken teeth, torn overalls, the dirt, I set my teeth at what I do not want to remember and cannot forget." (54)
"I think of all the times my hands have curled into fists, when I have just barely held on.  I open my mouth, close it, can't speak.  What could I say now?  All the times I have not spoken before, all the things I just could not tell her, the shame,  the self-hatred, the fear; all of that hangs between us now - a wall I cannot tear down." (57)
The narrator is a lesbian; the line between her sexual preference and her continual sexual abuse by male family members can be clearly drawn.
"Almost always, we were raped, my cousins and I.  That was some kind of joke, too.
          What's a South Carolina virgin?
          'At's a ten-year-old can run fast." (54-55)
She also adamantly opposes the idea of having children of her own one day.  This is most likely a direct result of her family experiences and she does not wish to continue the dysfunction.
"Jesse wraps her arms around my stomach, presses her belly into my back.  I relax against her.  "You sure you can't have children?" she asks.  "I sure would like to see what your kids would turn out to be like."
I stiffen, say, "I can't have children.  I've never wanted children."
...I would like to turn around and talk to her, tell her..."I've got a dust river in my head, a river of names endlessly repeating.  That dirty water rises in me, all those children screaming out their lives in my memory, and I become someone else, someone I have tried so hard not to be." (57)

No comments:

Post a Comment