Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Finding Common Ground When Crossing Racial Lines

In each of these short stories there seems to be a loss for one or more of the characters when racial borders are approached and breached. For the married couple is "Assimilation" each must give up something in order to contribute to a workable marriage. Mary Lyn gives up her heritage and her racial identity in order to escape the reservation and have what she considers a successful life. Jeremiah must give up the image of a perfect suburban white family in his commitment to his interracial marriage. To cope against a society that seems to shun them they both have to put up with prejudice from both sides. In "Nelson's Run", Nelson doesn't necessarily lose something so much as his perspective of his life, his family, and how he fits into the world is altered. His pseudo-reality of his 'family' with his father comes crashing down around him once he violates the role of 'Mom' that Sylvia fills and assumes the role of his father in his father's own bed. As well, Juan of "Godoy Lives" loses his former life when he arrives in America and leaves his family behind even as he tries to support them. He loses his perception of them. But in each of the stories, as the characters face the question of race and their relationship to these 'others' the characters also gain something invaluable despite their loss.
In "Assimilation", Jeremiah and Mary Lyn gain a respect for each other and a bond that grows from facing the dilemmas of prejudice together. Mary Lyn cheats on Jeremiah not because she truly hates him but because she is seeking out what and who she is. Jeremiah doesn't resent Mary Lyn for the trouble marrying her has caused him but resents society's labels and prejudices that force them into such ridiculous situations as being denied service at restaurants or even questioning which of their children are most loved by their parents. Mary Lyn and Jeremiah don't place these restrictions and labels and prejudices upon their family or against each other but it is rather society that has created these horrid boundaries of 'race' that seem to separate people. In the very end, Jeremiah and Mary Lyn demonstrate how they reject these conventions and find their own peace together by 'loving across the distance'. Despite the difference in their cultures and the troubles they face from society's impressions of race they are able to cross those boundaries and come to find a common ground in love and marriage. They are both humans and face the same doubts and troubles together and in similar manners.
In "Nelson's Run", it is when Nelson is confronted by his father's foray into the unknown world of 'other races' that Nelson is able to discover himself and his true relationship with his father. He finds he does not truly respect the man he calls 'Dad' as he is not in the least unwilling to sleep with his father's woman except to only momentarily wonder if he should feel guilty for violating his father's bed. It is society that has introduced such a notion in Nelson that would forbid him from his father's lover rather then respect. But this sudden encounter with the strange and exotic brings Nelson into adulthood and it is from this experience that he discovers his true nature; he is just like his father. He even becomes his father when, after bedding his father's mistress, by means of the woman he has claimed from his father he also is able to claim his father's wealth when she killed him. Sylvia seems to have killed Nelson's father in a fit of passion and then turned to Nelson as if she meant to live with him now that the son would inherit the father's wealth. So Nelson truly does come into his adulthood as his father by means of crossing the boundaries between race and discovering himself in the common ground of lust and greed with Sylvia. Both desire pleasures of the flesh and take thrill in the promise of material wealth. Though Nelson's character may not be the most moral it can certainly be said he gains from the meeting of races and in the interest of common grounds.
Juan from "Godoy Lives" also finds something when he enters America and encounters a new culture. Juan seems to find a happiness his former life lacked and the promise of a better life. It isn't as though he didn't love his wife but he seemed to have been tied to her mostly out of duty and sentimentality in his responsibility for his family. When Pancho finds him and takes him home Juan is given a second shot at life with a new name and persona. It is almost as if he discovers his true self when 'memories' of a past he didn't live come to him as Pancho and his family tell him of Godoy's life. He misses his family but the sweet promise of success and a new love interest are too strong to draw him back to his former life. Though I can't say I condone his seeming abandonment of his family, Juan does win a second shot at a happy life when he crosses the borders into the US and is brought into a new society. Here success and the American dream is the common ground he shares with his 'cousin' and almost every other American despite their race or origins. When he is given the opportunity to achieve that dream he takes it even as his family slips away from him for this new life and dream can keep him happy whereas the 'reality' of his other life did not satisfy him enough to call him back from the land of dreams.

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