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The tie that unbinds

Free Rein's picture

In Getting Mother’s Body by Suzan Lori-Parks, the relationship between Billy Beede and Willa Mae was dysfunctional. Billy Beede never wanted to be associated with her own mother. After they received a letter from Candy Napoleon about how she had sold some part of her land and that some developers were in the process of building a supermarket in the land where her mother’s grave lay, she threw all her cares into the wind. She said, “Willa Mae getting paved over don’t bother me none.” (44) She was not troubled by her mother’s death either. She told Snipes, “Willa Mae passed and it didn’t bother me none. I was glad to see her go.” (9) She called her by her name, Willa Mae, instead of mother. Albeit Billy Beede didn’t care about her mother, Willa Mae did care about her welfare. In the novel, Willa Mae posthumously chimed in and her songs mostly comprised of her advice to Billy. Well, she was a careless mother but she acknowledged the fact that her way of life wasn’t one that anyone would choose to emulate. She warned Billy from making the same mistakes she had. She sang, “Don’t do whatcha see me do. Don’t walk nowhere I lead, My middle name is Trouble, First is Sin and last is Greed. Wise up, child, turn yourself around.” (246)

As I read All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki, I drew a lot of similarities between the family relationships in it with that of Getting Mother’s Body. The relationships in both families are between rock and a hard place. Both Billy Beede and Yummy Fuller are victims of early teenage pregnancies from irresponsible men. In all over creation, Yummy and her parents don’t get along. Yummy immerses herself in a scandalous relationship with her ninth-grade teacher, Mr. Rhodes Elliot and gets carried away. She fled from her parent’s home when the whole town started rumour mongering about them. She also left to abstain from the guilt and shame of facing her own father,” Maybe you are mad at me for leaving, too. But I had to. I left for reasons of shame-not mine, which is what you probably hope, but yours, Daddy…The shame was yours, and I knew if I stayed, I’d be poisoned by it. I’d grow up all screwy and bent with the weight of your shame. So, I left. It was an evacuation, Daddy.” (37) After leaving and staying for a long time with no one knowing of her whereabouts, she decided to write to her parents. Her father had suffered from colorectal cancer and two heart attacks while her mother suffered from the Alzheimer’s disease; dementia.

She wrote, “Don’t worry about me. Don’t bother writing back unless you want to, but I should warn you that I’m not ever coming back to Liberty Falls.” (38)” I hate you.” (40)” Dear Lloyd, Fuck you.” (41)” Well, I haven’t heard from you for a really long time, so here’s the news: whether you like it or not, you have a new grandson. If you want to know his name, you can write and ask me…This is the last one you are going to get.” (44) when she was having a conversation with Cass, she cut her short when she mentioned about her father’s condition by saying, “I know. He is dying.” (63) At the hospital, Ocean also said, “Yes, Mommy said we must be nice to you because you are dying, but I’m not going to.” (74) When Yummy received a call from his dad asking for her intervention so that he could be discharged, she was so cold about it. As a matter of fact, she told him, “I can’t do that. You know I can’t. You can’t manage on your own, and there is no one here to take care of you…Dad, this is temporary. I’m only here for a visit. I don’t live here, remember?” (100) Then she hung up the phone on him.

When she returned home after twenty-five years of missing in action, she was accompanied by her three mixed-race illegitimate children in tow; Phoenix, Ocean and Barnabas. While they were having a reunion with both Cass and Will, Phoenix blurted, “Oh, Yummy, that’s such crap.” (61) He barely called her mother and lacked respect for her. Ocean is witty yet more like her brother. They lack courtesy even for their grandfather who is ailing. Although we didn’t get to see much of the relationship between Billy and her mother in Getting Mother’s Body and the kind of parent Billy turned out to be, Ruth Ozeki ‘s, All Over Creation, gives a limpid depiction of the long chain family relationship from Lloyd to Barnabas.

Works Cited.

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

L.Ozeki Ruth. All Over Creation. New York: Penguin. 2004. Print                                                                                                                                                                                                                               


Anne Dalke's picture

Free Rein--
You’re trying out a new paper here, one that links the difficult family relationships of Getting Mother’s Body with those in All Over Creation. You’ve gathered lots of quotes to show how complicated things are in both novels. You’ve been able to show us that the central character in each book is angry with her parent(s); in Ozeki’s novel, you’ve also been able to show how disrespect is carried into the next generation. As you finish reading All Over Creation, continue to mark all the passages that touch on intergenerational dynamics.

But the big question now is what you can do with this comparison. Your challenge for the next version of this paper will be to turn a list of quotes, which clearly show the parallels in the two books, into an argument that makes some sense of such comparisons. What might we learn from reading these similar stories?  And/or what might the differences between them suggest? (I’m thinking, for instance, of how differently the careless Willa Mae and the careful Momoko engage in the act of mothering.) How might you shift your description of a “limpid depiction of the long chain family relationship” into a claim about the meaning or implications of such a story?

Another possibility would be to dig into the relationship between “identity and environment” in both books: what effects do the landscapes of Texas and Idaho have, for example, on the interactions among the characters?

Also: watch out for clichés like “she threw all her cares into the wind,” and “between rock and a hard place.” We can talk in conference next week about why they’re a little slippery/often not the best choices.

Looking forward to finding out where you’ll go next!