“Above all else, the important thing was what we ‘planned to do with our lives.’ That each of us must do something was as inevitable as breathing for we owed a ‘debt to society which must be paid.’ This was a family commandment” (820).
“Yes, there were slaves, far too many of them in the family, but that was your grandfather’s mistake, not yours. The past has been lived. It is gone. The future is yours. What are you going to do with it” ( 820).
“We lived in the same segregated life as did other southerners but our parents talked excessively Christian and democratic terms” (820).
“We were told that also to be ‘radical‘ is bad, silly too; and that one must always conform to the ‘best behavior’ of one’s community and make it better if one can” (821).
“We were taught that we were superior not to people but to hate and resentment, and that no member of the Smith family could stoop so low as to have an enemy. No matter what injury was done us, we must not injure ourselves further by retaliating. That was a family commandment too” (821).
The above quotes from “When I Was A Child” by Lillian Smith are pertinent to my interpretation of her short essay. In general, I believe that Lillian Smith’s parents thought of their children as The Future, but they themselves were not brave enough to go against their community’s beliefs on segregation, and therefore could not prove to their children that social change is possible and that this kind of change is acceptable–that you won’t be thought less of for believing in something that is not the social norm of your neighbor, something that would be considered by most: Radical.
Smith’s typical southern, Christian, democratic, law-abiding parents were remorseful for their forebearers’ mistake of owning slaves. Yet when given the opportunity to finally turn the tide on a racial issues, in the south where segregation reigns unquestioned, they buckle to conform, even though they know that making little Janie return to the colored part of town, just when she got acclimated to her new diggs. The following passage proves that Lillian Smith knew that the decision her parents had made was wrong, knew that they knew it was wrong, yet still did not know how to buck the system so that Janie could stay.
“But I knew, though I said it firmly, that something was wrong. I knew my father and mother whom I passionately admired had done which did not in with their teachings. I knew they had betrayed something which they held dear. And I was shamed by their failure and frightened, for I felt that they were no longer as powerful as I had thought. There was something Out There that was stronger than they and I could not bear to believe it. I could not confess that my father, who had always solved the family dilemmas easily and with laughter, could not solve this. I knew that my mother[,] who was so good to children[,] did not believe in her heart that she was being good to this child. There was not a word in my mind that said it but my body knew and my glands, and I was filled with anxiety” (824).
Easy reading is damn hard writing.
– Nathaniel Hawthorne
I found “Us and Them” by David Sedaris to be very eye-opening. I wasn’t really aware of how true it was that American families surround their televisions, how predominant television is in our lives as Americans that such am interest could label a family as normal or abnormal. David Sedaris wrote, “To say that you did not believe in television was different from saying that you did not care for it. Belief implied that television had a master plan and that you were against it” (803). I think that the Tomkeys’ lack of television in their home, and by extension lifestyle, implied that they did not believe in television and thought that its presence in their neighbors’ homes was diminishing their mental capabilities. David Sedaris’ parents weren’t TV fanatics, but they obviously accepted the concept into their homes, if not to hear the nightly news, but also not to be ostracized by their neighbors.
I think the point of the narrative was to critique the lifestyle of Americans with introduction of television, and how it can negatively affect their perspective of those who don’t also live their lifestyle. “My candy bars were poison but they were brand-name, and so I put them in pile no. 1, which definitely would not go to the Tomkeys” (806) exemplifies this perfectly. The narrator is hell-bent on protecting his stash of candy, even the chocolate he can’t eat, because the Tomkeys are a family that doesn’t have a TV, doesn’t observe holidays on their correct date, and are therefore to be pitied. However, Sedaris shows the narrator’s personal growth, ” ‘What was up with that kid’s tail?’ I asked. ‘Shhhh,’ my family said” (808). The narrator has contemplated the Tomkeys’ differences to his own family, yet when he asks his family’s opinion of their eccentric neighbors, they enforce that he is interrupting TV!
My name is Lyndsy Hatfield. I am a Business major and I have 5 pets, (2 horses, 2 cats, and 1 dog.) I live three and a half hours away from Albany in a small town called Moravia, which is an hour from Syracuse.
I love to read, I have a Nook and an addiction to Barnes and Noble, B&N as I call it.
I also have a passion for movies, which is fostered by Netflix. Anyone seen “Gangster Squad” yet?
Hope you enjoy my craziness.