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Getting Out of Shadow

Iridium's picture

Getting Out of Shadow

            Orally, when people say we are so much like our parents, we may argue, but we usually do not deny that we are influenced by our parents. Animals brought up by their parents share many similarities with their parents when they are hunting, playing, and fighting etc. Same as human. The gesture we holding chopsticks, the way we folding socks, and the style of speaking are more or less passed down from our parents.

            We are like our parents in some aspects, but we are not willing to recognize that we are like them without restrictive phrases because we know there is something else other than the parent-like part in our features. We have our own identity. We are not cloned from our parents. But it is true that we gain our basics of everything from our parents. That’s why we always bring some impression of our parents to others. However, people always get stuck on the excerpts from both the parent and the child. These excerpts are so small pieces but give them the confidence to say that you whole person is exactly like your parents.

            Back to the beginning of this essay, I say that we grow up under parents’ influence. To be more specifically here, I would like to elaborate “influence” as “shadow” by bringing in my classmate Calliope’s definition which she refers on Billy and Willa Mae’s relationship. Assuming “we” and “our parents” are literally figures that do not move and figures of a family are close to each other because of the bonds, and we, starting with little kid figures, are growing up under parents’ shadows. They are so tall and strong that we cannot even get out of the shadow until we become taller or stronger than them that makes us stand out. Before then, we are always referred by people as someone’s daughter or someone’s son, like Billy in Susan-Lori Parks’ novel Getting Mother’s Body are referred by every town folks as Willa Mae’s daughter.

            Nevertheless, Willa Mae does not have a good impression in folks’ minds. She steals things, she never works, she plays around with men and so on. In this situation, to get along with town folks, referred as Willa Mae’s daughter is not a happy thing for Billy. Billy knows the differences between she and her mother and she works hard to make people notice the differences, such as her good grades and her talent in making hair, but folks don’t care about those. Impolitely and negatively, they may interest more in whether Billy will become Willa Mae Junior or more than that since this thought proves their reference and even makes an expansion.

            They may have “night blindness” because they cannot see how Billy put her effort in growing out of Willa Mae’s “shadow”. Generally, there are two ways when children facing the “shadow”: getting better than their parents, which in a narrower sense is being more expertise in that field, or looking for a way to escape from it. First, Billy choose to be better than her mother. She attends school and does a great job in school which her mother never achieves. But people just talk and you can’t stop them from talking. Her peers belittle her and stay away from her. Then she goes to do hair with the hope of making some difference. But when efforts turn out to be useless, she quits everything and people say, that is exactly how Willa Mae’s daughter’s like. She fails the first way, so the only way for her is the second way-looking for a way to escape by using her weak argument- “I ain’t no Willa Mae.” (Parks 18)

            Therefore, Billy steps back in her shell, which makes her more like her mother. In other words, it makes her “smaller” under her mother’s “shadow”. The more she steps back, the more she realizes how she is like her mother. The inheritance from her mother of seeing a Hole appears. The Ring Trick comes up in her mind when she needs money. We have our personalities so unconsciously influenced by our parents that we are unavoidably like them in so many aspects. Most of the influences have rooted in our mind deeply since we are very young. Like some heroes and heroines in literary works and films works, when the seemingly unresolvable emergency comes, they always come up with what their parents have taught them and solve the situation successfully. On this point, we cannot neglect the similarity in between,

            But you cannot solve the problem unless you study it. It is same that we cannot make our identity stand out of our parents’ “shadow” unless we study the shadow. Billy makes her life a turn from her mother’s track by refusing her cousin Homer’s invitation. “you and me and that treasure could have some hot and wild fun.” (184) On the way to get her mother’s treasure, Billy thinks a lot about past and her mother. She studies her mother on stage and off stage, much more than we can read from the text. For Willa Mae, the invitation reflects on her daily life. For Billy, this is a definition question on herself. If she contends, she will be more fit under her mother’s “shadow”. Otherwise, she can stand out. And Billy catches the chance, turning her fate’s wheel to run on a different direction.

            We always worry about where we can be unlike our parents because people favor to pick up the similar part and talk on it tirelessly. Indeed, we are bothered by people but not the similarities. We should never worry about how similar we are and what inherited from parents appears on us. Similarities are always there because the blood bond is there. So the best choice to stop our concern is to change people’s focus by making our differences more prominent. When the chance of making difference comes, just catch it and get to run on another track.




Work Cited

Calliope. "Getting Mother’s Body Essay Rough Draft." Serendip. Web.

Suzan-Lori Parks, Getting Mother's Body. New York: Random House, 2004.


Anne Dalke's picture

One of the very striking aspects of your writing is the way in which you are able to identify a metaphor—or some other form of figurative language—and then really push that image to its limits, exploring all the dimensions that it reveals. You did that a few weeks ago when you developed the concept of a vector to discuss the seriousness of play.

What you do here, even more strikingly, is visualize parental influence as a “shadow,” and then play with that image: we grow up under our parents’ shadow, we can’t get out from under it until we (literally?) get tall and strong enough to “stand out” from it. You go on to introduce the related concept of “night blindness,” the inability of others to see how a daughter like Billy might have grown out of her mother’s shadow. We might also talk, when you come to your conference this week, about the mixing of metaphors, since as the essay develops, you slip into the imagery of “stepping back into a shell,” and of “turning her fate’s wheel”—how do you understand the relation of shells and wheels to shadows? Do those new images extend the meaning of your original metaphor, or complicate or confuse it?

You end with a piece of advice—for us not to worry about how much we resemble our parents, to make “our differences more prominent.” I’d like to nudge you @ that point to return to Getting Mother’s Body—is that the advice that the novel gives? Are you and S-L Parks in agreement? You and Billy Beede (who has the final word there)?

For this Friday, I’d like to nudge you to carry these ideas forward. How does parental influence, and the child’s need to break away from it, play out in All Over Creation? You’ve got several generations to deal with here—you can see Yumi and Cass in relationship both to their parents and to their children. How much shadowing, how much stepping out from under the shadow, occurs in this novel? How are those patterns like and/or different from those in Getting Mother’s Body? What larger conclusions might you draw from the textual details you call attention to?

Or might you be curious about the relationship between “identity and environment” in the book, for example, about what effect the very different landscapes of Idaho and Hawaii have, for example, on the interactions among the characters?

 Looking forward to finding out!


P.S. Let’s also spend some part of our conference reviewing sentence structure, focusing just on the first paragraph…