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3PP Rough Draft Getting Mother's Body

Calliope's picture

Francesca Caramazza

ESEM Changing Our Story

Anne Dalke



Getting Mother’s Body Essay Rough Draft


In Suzan Lori-Parks novel, Getting Mother’s Body, Billy Beede stresses her desire to be her own person and maintain no connection with, her mother, Willa Mae’s reputation. Despite her desire to be free from her mother’s shadow, Billy still uses tricks that her mother used. These tricks, for example looking for holes or the ring trick, were used by Willa Mae to get what she wanted. While Billy tries to deny her similarity to her mother, their connection and overlapping characters are undeniable and she only increases their similarities throughout the book. However, Billy continues to deny the similarities because she is afraid to become her mother.

Billy makes sure that everybody knows how much she dislikes her mother. She tells Snipes in the car after they’ve had sex. He brings up the treasure that Willa Mae was buried with and Billy says, “And I say Willa Mae Beede was a liar and a cheat. Getting locked up in jail every time she turned around. Always talking big and never amounting to nothing” (9). And when Snipes tries to chastise her, she continues, “Willa Mae passed and it didn’t bother me non. I was glad to see her go” (9). Billy feels threatened when people imply that she resembles her mother because she is afraid to become her mother and assume her reputation. “Willa Mae never did amount to nothing” (19). She continues to deny her similarities to her other when June suggests that her mother might have stolen a wedding dress, “I ain’t no Willa Mae” (18). After reading the letter from Candy, Dill Smiles’ mother, she insists that “Willa Mae’s getting paved over don’t bother me none” (44).

            Despite Billy’s defensiveness about becoming her mother, she seems to have no problem using tricks that her mother used. An example of this is when Billy needs a wedding dress. She goes to Mrs. Jackson’s shop for formal wear and tries to buy a beautiful handmade dress, however, Billy only has $63. “I see something in her, something I’m not sure of at first. Something my mother might call The Hole. It’s like a soft spot and everybody’s got one … It’s like The Hole shapes the words for me and I don’t got to think or nothing” (27). Billy uses the hole and then, “Don’t go telling all of Lincoln, Texas, how you got yrself a hundred-thirty dollar dress and a pair of twenty-dollar shoes off of Mrs. Jackson for sixty-three dollars” (29). Billy uses her mother’s tricks to get herself an expensive wedding dress for free. Even though she told June that she wasn’t like her mother, she behaves like Willa Mae to exploit Mrs. Jackson’s hole and wedding dress for less than half price.

            Another trick Billy uses of her mother’s is the ring trick. When her and her family were on the road, they ran out of money and they needed to perform the ring trick to finish the rest of the journey to LaJunta, Texas. “you need three folks, not counting the man who runs the filling station. You need a lady, a man, and a third person. The lady plays the Rich Lady, the man plays the Driver, and the third person plays what’s callt the Finder” (200). Willa Mae continues and explains how to scam the man who runs the filling station. The rich lady pretends to have lost her ring and promises a large cash reward if the man at the filling station finds it. She and her driver leave. Then the finder pretends to find the ring (although she had it the entire time) and the filling station man gives the finder all the money in his cash drawer because he is too blinded by the money promised by the rich lady. This is another situation where, while Billy denies acting and being similar to her mother, she steals and pulls tricks just like her.

            Billy is so against being compared to her mother because she is afraid of becoming her. Her mother has a reputation of being a thief, a liar, and never amounting to anything, which makes it understandable why Billy would not want to be connected to her. However, after digging up her mother’s body and finding the ring. Billy seems to make peace with her situation, especially her pregnancy. She has the child and accepts her mother’s body. By doing this, she rises above her mother and achieves things her mother never did. She has Laz, a loving husband, as well as a child, and a home. She finally seems to be able to be happy and put her mother and their relationship out of her mind.



Anne Dalke's picture

You do a very nice job here of presenting all the passages in which Billy denies any connection with her mom, while putting to use all the tricks she taught her. The arc of your essay ends with a declaration that Billy’s worked through this paradox, that she’s “made peace with her situation,” is finally “able to be happy and put her relationship w/ her mother out of her mind,” having “risen above her mother.”

So the question is how, for the re-write, you might open up this so-neatly concluded essay—how to complexify the description, which right now you’ve posed as a binary: the puzzle of why a woman might deny becoming her mother while reenacting her life, ending with an account of how that tension was resolved.

This might be a place to bring in some outside reading. Perhaps you could re-think “the contact zone”—those “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today”—as the site of mother-daughter negotiation? How do you think that “asymmetrical relations of power” are played out across the generations in Parks’ novel? Or perhaps you could look @ the text I mentioned in class last Thursday, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution, in which Adrienne Rich identifies “matrophobia” (the “fear of becoming our mothers”) as a phenomenon of the 1970s, in which many of us, especially those of us in the white middle-classes, were rebelling against the lives we saw our mothers living: “Matrophobia can be seen as a womanly splitting of the self, in the desire to become purged once and for all of our mother’s bondage, to be individual and free. The mother stands for the victim in ourselves, the unfree woman, the martyr,” Rich wrote, as she urged us to move beyond that split.

And/but/if this was predominately a phenomenon of the white middle class daughters, what happens when the concept is applied to black working class women, such as those in Parks’ novel? For example, in a book on  Anti-feminism in the Academy,

I see first that (in line with matrophobia), “the only alternatives proposed are filial piety or killing the mother.” And then I see “a striking absence of either maternalist or matrophobic metaphors in narratives by women of color and/or of working class origins….”

Looking forward to seeing where you can go with this,


p.s. Don’t forget that you are writing for the internet. “3PP Rough Draft” is not a title that will pull in an audience :)