"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Listening to the Personal Narrative

      The story of Precious may push the boundaries of our understanding.  We have not walked in her shoes, we have not taken her determined steps, yet we read her story and try to understand as she fights to break a cycle of abuse and incest.  The use of the narrative style at first makes a reader uncomfortable; at first I was a reader unsure that I could continue, and then I became a listener.  Precious spoke to me, she cried out to me and she fought me when I wanted a happy ever after ending.  She had to remind me that her story was real, it was hers to tell, it was personal and it would not end well just because I wanted a neat tidy ending.  Instead she told her story in a raw, graphic and harsh manner.  In the end, she has won and lost at the same time and I’m supposed to be content with the seed of hope she has planted.  Yet I left class still thinking about her.  I thought I’d put the novel down weeks ago, and now it’s back in my head.  

      Personal narratives allow a writer to share their story with others.  The writer must put the reader in the midst of the action and the story is only complete when the reader can say, “Yes, I can feel it, this captures the experience, it’s what it feels like…” which is contradictory to how a personal narrative must be written.   In Push, Sapphire doesn’t tell us what to feel, she shows us what to feel.  “I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver” could have been written in a second person style and impact may have been lost.  Written as it is, it’s a first line that won’t be forgotten.  I know I won't forget.

      Throughout the novel, Precious is given the voice, and no one else speaks.   If the other characters had the power to speak and tell the story from their perspectives would they have crushed Precious down?  Imagine the story from her mother’s perspective; bitter, caught in the cycle of abuse and already over the fight, the only one she has any power over is Precious.  Imagine the story from Ms. Rain’s perspective; a righteous teacher with a strong voice, she too would have overpowered Precious because she would have been noble and a more likely hero.  The power of the personal narrative gave Precious the story instead; as Rossiter relays “To be a person is to have a story.”  If we had heard Precious’ mother’s story or Ms. Rain’s story would would Precious be less real?  Instead the personal narrative lets us think.  Again Rossiter relays it well, “To tell too much, to provide the answers to all questions spoken and anticipated, is to render the active engagement of the learner unnecessary”, so today we were the learners and we listened.

     Since the story was stuck in my head and I couldn’t let it go, I went further and finding Sapphire’s website I was torn to discover there was a sequel written to Push.  Spoiler alert included… if you want to imagine Precious’s happy ending stop reading now.  I wish I had.  Perhaps she was happy for longer than she’d ever been before after we closed her story, but Sapphire has written The Kid, the story of Abdul.  Just as the story began in Push, Sapphire has done the same in The Kid.  Abdul is waking up at the age of nine, preparing to go to his mother’s funeral, soon to be a victim of the foster care system.  According to summaries I read, he struggles too; what his mother fought to keep him out of he slides directly into. It sounds like too much for me.  I’m almost sorry to know that the novel exists.  I'm not prepared to listen right now.

1 comment:

  1. Lisa, what's most noteworthy about your writing for me (and there is A LOT that is noteworthy), is your unsparing emotional embrace of what is in front of your gaze--whether it is dignity in grace or an unexplainable horror. Your writing is a little bit like reading literature, in that it is nuanced and deep, filled with courage and always contingent (meaning, never finished; you leave room for the reader, a la Rossiter). Thank you!


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.