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Got mother's body or not

Raaaachel Wang's picture

In the class, we discussed the three levels of the title. Two physical meaning and one about Billy’s mental change. For those two physical levels, the facts that Billy Beede is pregnant and getting into a mother’s body shape day by day and she’s going to Lajunta to get Willa Mae, her mother’s body are no denying. But from the perspective of the mental level, the mental heritages that Billy Beede gets from her mother, is not that obvious and determined. Is she really getting her mother’s body mentally?

Sophisticated, sociable, dangled by so many people, Willa Mae seems so different with her daughter, who is naïve about sex and everything, at the beginning of this story.  Except for having a fatherless baby, Billy Beede doesn’t have too much in common with her mother.

But gradually I see more and more evidence that she is her mother’s daughter.

“I see something in her, …… Mother said she could see The Hole in people and then she’d know how to take them. She could see Holes all the time but I ain’t never seen one. Until now. Words shapes theirselves in my mouth and I start talking without thinking of what I need to say. It’s like The Hole shapes the words for me and I don’t got to think or nothing.”(27) She uses her mother’s communication philosophy “”to circle with other people.

 “Billy looks at my ring again.’ We could try something,’ she says. The way she says it makes everybody look at her. She looks around the jukes at all of us, then takes a glance at the door, making sure no one else can hear. Her eyes got a kind of fire in them. We all see it.’ Willa Mae and me used to pull what’s called a ring trick.’ She says” She’s using a trick from her mother to help people get through difficulties, well, though the trick is unethical, it did work.

If “getting mother’s body” mean Billy Beede is getting some characteristic from her mother, sure it is true. Because some traits of Willa Mae are shown on Billy Beede day by day. But it doesn’t mean Billy Beede is becoming another Willa Mae. I think there is a significant difference between having something in common and becoming two similar people. Billy Beede definitely inherits some traits and tricks from her mom, but she’s a different person from Willa Mae. She is more settled down, more acceptable for a normal, plain family life.

The change in her is gradually. In the last chapter, which is in the perspective of Billy Beede, there are several sentences which shows that, after all the things happened on their way to LaJunta, she is no longer that naïve girl at the beginning, she has grown into a mentally mature woman.

 “Not a diamond, just a plain wedding band, but it was never than diamonds, I thought.”(256) She got a much more mature view of love than the one she had at the beginning, in which sexual attraction seems the essential factor to her.

And “Then I knew Dill had tooked it from mother and if Dill had tooked that ring then she had tooked the pearls too……I wasn’t gonna ask Dill about them while we was riding back home. I wasn’t never gonna ask her……If Dill stole things I don’t got a need to talk about it. The truth, whatever it is, is gonna stay secret.”(256-267) The previous Billy said whatever she want and never thought about the consequence but now she knows making something “stay secret” is necessary.

“When I seen her bones I knew what we all knew, that we’s all gonna end up in a grave someday, but there’s stops in between there and now.” She is no longer the little girl that has no direction in her life, she starts to realize the limitation of a person’s life. But instead of giving a negative response to the fact that people all die one day, she realizes the philosophy for living a life and enjoy what we have.

Billy Beede is certainly getting mother’s body, but instead of getting the body of her mother, Willa Mae, she is getting the body, as well as the mind, of a mature woman.

I don’t believe that people’s personalities are heritable. It’s no denying that parents and children sometimes have similar personalities, characters, or sometimes may even have similar life experiences. But it doesn’t mean the parents pass those “personal identities” genetically to the children. I believe it’s the common living environment that makes parents and children have something in common. And different experiences and environments will surely lead to different personalities. And maybe that’s why, though Billy Beede has something in common with Willa Mae, she is Billy Beede herself, not a Willa Mae.

Work cited:

Parks, Suzan-Lori. Getting Mother's Body. New York: Random House, 2003. Print.



Anne Dalke's picture

Raaaachel Wang--

I was so amused (and pleased!) during Thursday night’s conversation, to hear S-LParks’ admiration of Jody’s students, who’d worked out several meanings for the title that seem not to have occurred to her. It was a great demonstration of her saying that she writes “for her characters,” and leaves the job of “making meaning” up to her readers!

And now I’m quite interested to see yet another level of meaning emerge in your analysis. Like both Calliope
and Iridium

, you trace Billy’s complicated relation with her mother: seemingly so different @ the outset, increasing like her as the novel evolves. But your project differs in its focus on the mental connections. You explore beyond the obvious similarities of the physical body to examine the degree to which Billy’s mind is like-or-different from Willa’s.

Perhaps the most striking passage you quote is the one in which Billy realizes that “we’s all gonna end up in a grave someday,” when (as you say) “she starts to realize the limitation of a person’s life”—and with that realization, also starts to see its possibilities, recognizing that “there’s stops in between there and now.” Your strong punch line is that Billy’s “getting the body, as well as the mind, of a mature woman.”

You end with a declaration of your “belief” that “people’s personalities are not heritable.” But your task in these papers is not to declare your beliefs, but rather to analyze the text, to highlight what it is saying/teaching you--really focusing on how it challenges your beliefs. You say that “different experiences and environments will surely lead to different personalities,” but you’ve just shown that the evidence you’ve gathered from the novel points in the opposite direction: that Billy gets both the body and the mind of her mother. If that’s what you’ve shown that the novel shows, how then can you end with a claim of non-inheritance? I’m confused….

And so of course looking forward to seeing how you might handle this paradox in your upcoming revision of this paper--