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Walking Across Egypt
Mattie Rigsbee is the main character in Clyde Edgerton's southern style novel, Walking Across Egypt. Mattie is a seventy-eight year old widow with two middle-aged children. Living alone in a small house, she makes sure that everything is taken care of. Although begins to display some signs of aging, and her family is trying to convince her to slow down her lifestyle, Mattie's character and mind setting prohibits her from becoming the stereotypical elder. She must make a decision in which direction to turn.
"I'm too old to keep a dog," she says to the dogcatcher as he is leaving with a brown fice that showed up on her doorstep. "Besides, I'm slowing down," she says to her son during lunch. The stereotypes of the elderly are influencing Mattie's life. She is telling herself not to do things because of her age whether or not she is physically able to do them, simply because people associate age with inability and dependence upon others. Her family and friends are expecting and encouraging this dependence.Elaine and Robert, Mattie's two unmarried children, along with other family and friends, are encouraging her to be what they expect a seventy-eight year old woman to be. They talk about how she needs to get rest because she is slowing down and can't keep going as steady as she seems to think. When she decided to try and help a young juvenile, Wesley Benfield, become a better person by taking him to church and offering him to stay the night with her, Robert thought that Mattie was sick.
Pearl Turnage, Mattie's older sister, has given in to the stereotypes that are now plaguing Mattie, and insists that she do the same. In fact, she invites Mattie to accompany her to the funeral home where they will each pick out a casket that they are to be buried in. Pearl pushes the subject, as if to force Mattie into realizing that she doesn't have much time left to live. Pearl also begins talking to Mattie about the past and the fun that they once had, as if to tell Mattie that those days are over and that it is time for her to begin a new chapter in her life. The future that Pearl has planned for herself,however, is totally contrary to the lifestyle that Mattie has chosen to pursue.
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Mattie has grown up with the same expectations of elderly people as everyone else, however, she chooses not to live her life based on these expectations, but rather on how her feelings lead her. At the beginning of the novel, she is unsure about what direction she wants to take in life. She turns down the dog, and says that she needs to slow down, but at the end she makes a realization about the person that she wishes to be. She makes the comment at the beginning about how she is "too old" to keep a dog, yet at the end, she asks whether or not he is still in the pound. She even is laughing about falling through the bottom of the rocking chair even though she was worried about injuring herself at the time it happened. And she sends her children through a loop when she decides to raise the juvenile, Wesley, in her home.
Although she is beginning to display some signs of aging and her family tries desperately to have her slow her life down, Mattie Rigsbee has a strong character that is prohibiting her from becoming the stereotypical elder. She has made a decision in her life on which road that she will take to begin the rest of her life. She has not turned onto the dead-end road of reminiscence, disability and dependence, but rather onto the long, fulfilling road of life, happiness, and salvation. Life is good.