Caribbean Spirits, Colonial Ghosts - “Autobiography of My Mother”
Michael Dawkins (Mike3mse@msn.com)
Caribbean Spirits, Colonial Ghosts
Did you ever see a child misbehaving in public or teenagers wandering the streets late night? Most likely you have experienced an example of bad (or absence) of parenting. It is no doubt that the way a child is raised has a profound effect on their childhood and eventually their adulthood. Using “Xuela” from “Autobiography of My Mother” as a literary example, I will analyze the effects of bad parenting. I will also utilize articles from The New Zealand Herald-“Part-time parents 'bad for children'”, “The Bahama Journal-Children Suffer From Bad Parenting”, and BBC News-“Bad parenting 'causes child crime'”, to support my analysis along with modern examples.
Xuela is a really unique character because her thinking and actions are completely independent of anyone’s control. Xuela effectively shuts out any emotional connection with almost everyone in her life. Her behavior results from her tumultuous childhood. Her mother died during Xuela’s childbirth, so Xuela never met her or even seen a picture of her; "My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and eternity; at my back was always a bleak, black wind. (pg 3)”. The only image she has of her mother is through dreams where she sees her walking down steps but she never sees her face, “Night after night I saw her heels, only her heels coming down to meet me, coming down to meet me forever. (pg 19)”. The loss of her mother was a tremendous void in her life because it was an emotional part of her that she never connected with. Xuela has no female role model in her life and the only one that is left is Mr. Richardson, her father, who treats her like an unwanted possession rather than his flesh and blood.
Mr. Richardson leaves her with Ma Eunice, whom is a woman that does his laundry, to take care of Xuela. Ma Eunice has children of her own and does not regard Xuela as one of her own; she in fact cares very little for Xuela. Xuela does not receive any love, affection, or guidance, from Ma Eunice. Xuela starts to form a defensive shell against mistreatment from Ma Eunice and her father. During the time that Xuela spends with Ma Eunice, she only sees her father when he comes to pick up and drop off his laundry. Mr. Richardson’s only concern with Xuela is that she attends school, he just dismisses anything else that Xuela was feeling, and how Xuela desperately wanted to leave Ma Eunice’s home to stay with her father.
Mr. Richardson decided to take Xuela to live with his wife and Xuela’s siblings. Xuela’s stepmother abhorred her; she gave her rotten food to eat and even made a voodoon necklace with intentions to kill Xuela. Xuela didn’t care that her step mother didn’t like her however she tried to understand why this woman had so much contempt for her. Her sister also scorned Xuela and wished that she was dead. Xuela was surrounded in a house full of hate and seemed like Mr. Richardson didn’t notice or he didn’t care at all.
When she turned 15, her father sent her to live with the LaBattes, whom he had a sort of business relationship with Mr. LaBatte. At first LaBattes treat Xuela well, and Mrs. LaBattes befriends Xuela briefly until Xuela finds out that she is just being used to carry Mr. LaBattes child. She becomes pregnant after having her first sexual experience with Mr. LaBatte however she aborts the unborn child. It is from that point in her life that she realizes she has control of her body and mind which makes her unwilling to sacrifice herself to anyone. During the time she spent at the LaBattes, she rarely sees her father who is her only true parent in terms of kinship.
All of these situations that involved substitute parents worsen Xuela physically, emotionally, and mentally. "I felt I did not want to belong to anyone, that since the one person I would have consented to own me had never lived to do so, I did not want to belong to anyone; I did not want anyone to belong to me. (pg 104)”, this relates to the absence of her mother in her life and the fact that as a woman in a colonial society, she was supposed to be regarded as a piece of property. Ma Eunice was just there to basically provide her with food and shelter. I understand that Xuela was not one of Ma Eunice’s children but she (and her rude children) always made Xuela feel ostracized in her home. I couldn’t imagine how it would feel for someone to always treat you with disgust all the time and they never had a reason to do so.
When Mr. Richardson moved Xuela into his house with his wife, Xuela was forced to defend herself in an even more destructive environment. The wife wanted to kill her even though Xuela was a child who posed no treat to her however the step mother felt that she did. It is also interesting to see that the mother disregards her own daughter and only pays attention to the son who eventually dies of an illness. The mother’s different treatment of her children is an example of colonialism where males especially when they are young, are educated and receive the most attention while the females are just groomed to be someone’s wife. Women were not expected to have aspirations to be anything in their lives; this reaction can be observed through Mr. Richardson’s relationship with Xuela.
The worst parenting situation that Mr. Richardson threw Xuela into was with the LaBattes. Although the LaBattes were unassuming, they just wanted to use Xuela for a body especially because Mrs. LaBatte could not bear children. I feel like Mr. Richardson knowingly put Xuela in this situation and again he didn’t care. Giving his daughter to LaBatte had to be one of the most senseless decisions that he made for her. He completely ignores Xuela feelings or care for her well being. It is difficult for me to even call Mr. Richardson, Xuela’s father, because he truly doesn’t care whether she safe, feed, or clothed, or being abused. He willing puts her in the hands of people he barely knows and he has a love of for money more than anything else (besides his son who died). Mr. Richardson is basically absent in most of Xuela’s life, he his like a shadow, something that is there but can’t be felt.
Xuela has to be her own parent, she learns this from an early age that it is just her and she is the only one she can depend on and trust. Xuela has to constantly defend herself from those evil and wicked people that she was subjugated to in her childhood. It is not the fact that Xuela chooses to be a mother to herself, it is the fact that she is forced to. She has to love herself because no one else does. She has to care for herself, she has to cook and clean and even speak English, without a mother to teach her how to do these things. Xuela was deprived of love and affection in her child hood which was a major factor in how she lives the rest of her life with animosity towards others, even the people who do eventually try to love her.
Since Xuela was always forced in a position to defend herself throughout her childhood, she became assertive and demanding, similar to a man’s behavior. Mr. Richardson was her only true paternal figure therefore it was natural for her to want to imitate him. Xuela had some of her father’s characteristics in her personality, such as her willingness to always in control and self-sufficient also her ability to manipulate others for her own personal gain. When the mother is absent in the daughter’s life, there is a loss of sensitivity and expression of emotion, which a result of men who are always taught to hold in their feelings and not show emotion.
During my research I came across an interesting article from the Bahama Journal that dealt with the lack parenting and care affecting a child’s behavior, " ’Not every parent (is a fit parent). As a matter of fact, in my estimation, we have relatively few parents today. We have thousands of mummies and daddies, but when you speak of parenting you’re speaking of persons who are prepared to make sacrifice in order to enable this orderly development of their children,’ Rev. Ward said. (The Bahama Journal)”. Another quote that I found interesting related to Xuela’s childhood in which she had to basically raise herself; "What’s happening far too much today is that children are being allowed to bring themselves up, and because they haven’t lived yet, they don’t know what the best choices are. The parents and the adults in their lives – that includes educators – need to be offering them the way forward," Rev. Ward said.’ (The Bahama Journal)”. Parents are needed to show direction in a child’s life, "It is necessary, in fact, for us adults to show the children the way of life in order that they may get the best out of life."
Throughout all that Xuela experienced, she did not seek to violently harm others however some children’s reaction to ineffective parenting is through violence. A child might physically harm others because they want others to feel the pain that they are experience or because they have no other outlet for expression. "Parents must set the right example, and most do. But there is a hard-core of feckless parents who have a corrosive effect on the rest. (BBC News)”, the article is reflecting about the violent and distracting behavior in schools. The article suggests that a law should be created that holds parents responsible (to a certain degree) when their children commit crimes; “…the parenting orders scheme, which allows courts to force the parents of persistent truants or children who are committing crimes to undergo training.”. I feel that law would be very useful in the Untied States especially in New York City where teachers are having major difficulties with disruptive students in classrooms. I remember an argument my chemistry teacher had with a student that completely ended the lesson because they were yelling back and forth the whole class period.
One article I read brought a common situation: part time parenting, which where the parent visits the child every other week. That situation is the case with Xuela and Mr. Richardson who only sees her once in awhile. The major problem with the part time parenting is that the child could only bond with their parent for a limited amount of time then they are separated for a long period of time. “A Families Commission study has found that the traditional pattern of the children of separated parents seeing dad only every second weekend may cause the most distress. The study found children were better off if they either see both parents a lot or barely see one parent at all…And study author Jan Pryor says that pattern is changing, as both mothers and fathers realize their children need to have ongoing close relationships with both parents. (The New Zealand Herald)”, this is the case in many single parent households. Most of the time it is the father is usually the part time parent which as a negative impact on both male and females. "Particularly for younger children, 12 days is a long time, and then they just get to know that non-resident parent for two days and have to go back again. (The New Zealand Herald)", the quote reveals the emotional issues that arise in a part time parenting situation.
From personal experience, I see the differences in people I know who have both their parents in their lives and the people who only have their mother or their father. Males who have both parents tend to be more goal oriented and focused than the males who just have their mother tend to be rebellious and lack self control. Many of the females I know personally were raised in single parent homes tend to be insecure with themselves and seek attention from males. I think the females are looking for the father figure in the males that they are involved with.
From reading Autobiography of My Mother, I observed how Xuela’s troubled childhood shaped her life and just ruined any happiness in her life. The consequences for bad parenting for Caribbean culture result in an emotionally scarred individual who seems to try seek revenge on others because there lack of love or understanding of love. Although Xuela has a very pessimistic view on life, I understand why she feels that way and why she treats people in such a manner. The next time I see a child misbehaving; there might be a real deeper reason to why that child is acting unruly. I know it must be incredibly difficult to raise a child because there isn’t any official handbook to raising children or set of guidelines to follow, you’re sort of on your own as a parent. I think it is unrealistic to expect people to be perfect parents but I feel as long as the parent is there to listen, nurture, provide the necessities and love and care for their children that their children will reciprocate to them and well as to others.
Kincaid, Jamaica. The Autobiography of My Mother
New York : Plume, 1997
The New Zealand Herald-“Part-time parents 'bad for children'” by Simon Collins, 2008
The Bahama Journal-“Children Suffer From Bad Parenting” by Quincy Parker, 2007
BBC News-“Bad parenting 'causes child crime'” 2002