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From Resentment to Acceptance

Calliope's picture


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.

            Contact zones, as explained by Mary Louise Pratt are “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” (Pratt). The characters in Parks’ novel fit in to two generations. Willa Mae’s generation, including Dill Smiles, June, and Roosevelt. And Billy’s generation, including Laz, and Homer. These two generations experience contact zones because they consistently clash over power. Billy is fiery and independent. She can do anything she sets her mind to, get anything she needs, like her mother could. However, with Willa Mae gone, Billy decides that she doesn’t need anyone else’s help and that she can take care of herself. When June tries to give her advice or tell her what to do, Billy says, “I aint yr child” (44). She continues to butt heads with the adults in her family as they go to get Willa Mae’s body. This clash is odd because as much as she seems to dislike Willa Mae, she won’t listen to anyone else in the family or take advise from anyone else.

            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

I’ll ask you to talk in conference this week about what (if any?) fundamental revisions you made to your first draft in this “re-visioning” that is the second; your opening and final paragraphs are identical. You have made some additions inbetween (including Billy’s comeback to June-- “I aint yr child”—which is especially striking since, as you say, Billy’s been denying, all along, the fact that she is Willa Mae’s child, in any meaningful sense. But such changes haven’t really led you to re-think what you were doing (which is what re-written papers, in my book, are intended to do).

Let’s also talk for a bit about citation form and sentence fragments (look @ your last two paragraphs before coming to your conference this week; can you find and correct the errors?) Also remember that each of your Friday papers needs to be tagged as a web-event; please go to your portfolio now and do that with all your recent papers….it’s getting confusing there!

But really? let’s spend the bulk of our time brainstorming what your first draft of a paper about All Over Creation might look like. What intrigues you about the novel? What ideas are you interested in exploring? Do you want to pursue the notion of family dynamics as a contact zone? Are you 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!