Places Where I Don’t Belong

Imagine living in two places where you don’t fit in. In both places, you were the “odd” one. Your culture never matches the place, and your lifestyles are different. In the book Brown Girl Dreaming, the author, Jacqueline Woodson, describes her childhood in the 60s and 70s, especially when her brown skin color matters a lot during that period of time. Raised in North and South, Jacqueline feels she’s halfway home in both places. In the award-winning book Brown Girl Dreaming, the author, Jacqueline Woodson describes her two homes in a way so descriptive that we can imagine ourselves there. In Brooklyn, she was left out in events because of her religion, and in the South, she was teased of her Northern culture.

 

As a Jehovah’s Witness Jacqueline was confined to many activities and couldn’t find friends with the common language in Brooklyn. In this religion, Jacqueline was restricted from several things to do. “Because we’re witnesses, no Halloween, no Christmas, no birthdays.” (Woodson, 164) The environment that she was in was very different in comparison to the country-side life back in the South. Brooklyn was not a carefree place. With all the bustling streets and busy crowds, Jacqueline experiences an urban life there. “The rain here is different than the way it rains in Greenville. No sweet smell of honeysuckle. No soft squish of pine. No slip and slide through grass.” (165) While at school, teachers put high expectations and pressure on Jacqueline. They thought that her academics were as good as her sister, Odella’s, but Jacqueline had proved them wrong, she disappointed the adults and was forgotten soon. “Everyone knows my sister is brilliant…she is gifted we are told. And I imagine presents surrounding her. I am not gifted. When I read, the words twist twirl across the page. When they settle, it is too late. The class has already moved on.” (169) Jacqueline was trying hard, but her talent was not discovered, and she was discouraged. However, with her neighbor and best friend, Maria, she gained support. And when Jacqueline’s mother crushed her dreams of becoming a writer, she only continued writing and kept practicing with persistence. She finally wrote her first book in Brooklyn, named Butterfly. “And somehow, one day, it’s just there speckled black and white, the paper inside smelling like something I could fall right into live there-inside those clean white pages.” (164)

 

In the South where Jacqueline’s grandparents are, she and her siblings sometimes are left out by the other kids because of their way of living in the North. Children in their neighborhood would refuse to play with them, and students and teachers at school wouldn’t accept them. In the leisurely lifestyle and the relaxing activities, Jacqueline rather enjoys her time with her grandparents, with her grandfather playing the role of her ‘PaPa’. With her rural environment, everything seems closer to nature. “Warm autumn night with the crickets crying the smell of pine coming soft on the wind and the women on the porch, quilts across their laps, Aunt Lucinda, Miss Bell and whatever neighbor…”(Woodson, 98) But with her mother’s demanding rules, Jacqueline often could only watch other kids play outside. And with her Northern accent, Jacqueline was mocked by others. “While our friends are watching TV or playing outside, we are in our house, knowing that begging our mother to turn the television on is useless, begging her for ten minutes outside will only mean her saying no.” (167)

 

This book was relatable to a friend of mine. Her father was from New Zealand, and her mother was a Chinese. The mixture of Western and Asian culture made it uneasy for her. In both places, she was a minority in both places. Technically, she didn’t look alike nor acted alike to the majority of the people in neither of the country she’s from. She couldn’t blend into the society, but she always worked hard towards the problem. I saw how she adapted herself into the Chinese society through advancing her Chinese language speaking, improving skills of using chopsticks. She told me that she was from both New Zealand and China, but she seems to be coming from neither at the same time.

 

Jacqueline’s story illustrates her two major places where she grew up, and neither does she fit in well in the society. As her journey continues, she adapts and thrives in her societies with her writing talent. She also discovered her writing talent within. Brown Girl Dreaming has places with dreams and memories, and they are unforgettable for the writer, and unforgettable by the reader.

 

The places where Jacqueline doesn’t belong to, are the places where her dreams come from and become true.

My Country is Important, But My Family is More

Sergei’s Journal

August 25th, 1939

Age 53

I am relieved, my mind feels released. Yesterday the Non-Aggression Treaty was signed with Germany. I am an old man now, I do not want to fight anymore. I want to spend the remaining years of my life with my family. Perhaps this is the only one thing that Stalin did correctly. I’ve seen the changes in Russia through the years. My older son, Vasily, just turned fourteen today. My family is living just like how I imagined 15 years ago. I need to protect my children, I hope they can have a better life than I do, and escape the fearful life like mine. Now, my family is my everything, and I cannot lose them.

 

Without fighting, I still fear that my family may have been purged. The purges of the party ordered by Stalin began in 1937. Stalin, our leader, was a cruel and brutal man. His favorite quote was “No man, no problem”. My colleague Petrov and his family disappeared. Petrov often complained about Stalin’s tyrannies, and he paid for his consequences. I was lucky enough that my loyalty towards Stalin saved my family from the gulags and blizzards in Siberia. I don’t like Stalin’s plans, but to keep my family safe, I have to follow orders. I understood that Stalin was trying his best to turn USSR into an industrial country, like his Five-Year-Plan eventually turned into a four-year-plan. Peasants suffered, it was not worth it.

 

Stalin was our ultimate lord, and we all were his followers. From 1924, I was hopeful that Trotsky would become a great leader after Lenin’s death. After all, what Lenin said about Stalin, how his personality wouldn’t lead our country to a great cause, I was actually a supporter of Trotsky. But Stalin’s great propaganda and secret police, the Chekas, gave him power and he soon took control of USSR. He even exiled Trotsky. To make the country look well-developed, Stalin even promoted collectivization, the Five-Year-Plan, and the uninterrupted week. In result, there were famines. Stalin caused terror amongst the country. No one ventured to oppose him because against Stalin meant being tortured to death. Back in 1930, the secret police set up the gulags, I once worked as an organizer for executioners there. People worked like slaves, and I thought that it was inhuman that we had to kill a slave every night unreasonably. But I had to tell the executioners to do it. I saw the hopelessness in the slaves’ eyes and their hatred towards us and the government. I wanted to help them, but I showed no mercy because I knew that it was either the slaves being executed, or else it would be me. It was not until 8 years later when my assistant told me that 20% of the zeks died.

 

I was a patriot. I’m trying to support entire Russia, but my family has become my center. I can’t believe the country had turned under the rule of dictatorship. But I’ve chosen to follow Stalin, I’ve become a coward. I knew the Chekas are watching every move I take. I knew that Stalin has been doing things wrong. I am an old man now, I have my own family to protect, I could no longer support the citizens of Russia. Looking back all these years from 1905, I have changed a lot in 35 years. USSR too. The only thing that hasn’t changed was the suffering of the peasants. Where is my passion for them? They are living like slaves while we are enjoying our feast. Even though I am a soldier and I have fought for Russia, the revolution…was not worth it.