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Although, African Americans are considered minorities in the United States, not all of them live in poverty. Many African Americans live in a middle class society along with the dominant culture. However, many African Americans do not live in a middle class society, but rather live in poverty and have to suffer along with this poverty. For instance, Donald Goines’s Black Girl Lost and Tina McElroy Ansa’s Baby of the Family, two narrative novels, that illustrate the difference in two young African American girls lives and the society in which they inhabit. Not only do these young African American girls represent the two sides of poverty, they also represent how children can also qualify in the minority category. For example, Sandra lives in a run down apartment with a drunk mother who could care less about her daughter. In addition, Sandra remains all on her own and has to find ways in which to survive each day. But on the other hand, Lena lives in a nice size home with her two parents, her two brothers, and her grandmother, all who love her very much. Moreover, Lena has many family members who look after her and take extra special care for her because she is the baby of the family. Although, both Sandra and Lena lead very different lives, both are faced with challenges as a minority and as a child which questions their view on life.
The home in which a child lives in is suppose to be a place of warmth, love, and protection. A home also offers other important aspects into a child’s life, for instance, self-confidence, pride, and security. If a child does not reside in a home that offers warmth, love, and protection, that child will not feel good about herself or the home in which she lives in. A child wants a home that he or she can be proud of enough to bring home a friend or two. In addition, if a child does not feel safe and secure in his or her home, then she will not posses these qualities in the outside world. Moreover, their lack of security can cause major disruptions and distractions within their everyday routine, like with Sandra. For example, the homes that Lena and Sandra live in illustrate the exact opposite of each other.
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Lena’s house was bigger than was needed for a family of six. There were rooms that they didn’t even use regularly and rooms that she never saw in other people’s houses. Besides a living room, dining room, kitchen, and six bedrooms, there was a breakfast room, a music room, a sewing room, and a walk-in pantry. There was a long, narrow linen closet big enough to play in, . . . And some of the hallways were as big as rooms. (62)
The home Lena lives in is probably a home that Sandra has never even stepped foot inside. In addition, Lena only knows the big house she lives in and Sandra only knows the small dirty house she lives in. Because of the diverse atmospheres Lena and Sandra live in, their lives remain quite different. For instance, Sandra, coming from a dirty, cold, unkept, and unsafe house, she endures a life of stealing, drug-dealing, and other hardships. However, Lena coming from a warm, safe, and loving home that offers genuine protection, leads Lena to a life of good judgments with a prosperous future, all of which none become offered to Sandra.
Another factor that contributes to the two African American girls’ different societies in which they live in is the amount of clothing and food they have at their advantage. Because Sandra and Lena come from unsimilar societies, the access to clothing and food corresponds to the atmosphere they experience every day. For instance, Sandra frequently missed school because the other "children had started to call her Raggedy Ann, a nickname she would have rather done without" (Goines 24). Moreover, Sandra could not afford decent enough clothing to give her enough self-confidence to attend school on a regular basis. On the other hand, Lena never has to worry if she will have nice clothes to wear at school. Lena’s parents own their own business had make good money to provide for all three of their children, unlike Sandra’s drunken mother who could care less if Sandra even went to school. The amount of food or lack of food contributed to how each of the two African American girls viewed the societies in which they live in. While Lena always had a good full course meal three times a day, Sandra had a "problem – her daily search for food. She was constantly hungry, because seldom did she get enough to really fill her up" (Goines 19). Moreover, Sandra has to constantly look out for herself and really only thinks ahead to the next meal. However, Lena can look ahead and decide what she would like to eat days in advance. In addition, Sandra has lived her entire life in poverty and knows of no other way of life. All Sandra knows is how to be hungry and feel those hunger pains attacking her stomach like a lion attacking its prey.
On a similar basis, Lena has only known of the society in which she lives in and has never had to experience or know of hunger. The only time Lena experiences poverty is when she meets her friend, Sarah. Lena’s first encounter with Sarah occurred and Lena noticed the difference in their clothing. For instance,
Lena’s dress, made with love and care by her grandmother . . . [while] [t]he dress the little girl across the street wore was not only stained down the front and soiled in the back where she had sat down in the dirt, but it was also torn at the waist and ripped under the left arm. (Ansa 71-2)
Because of Sarah, Lena becomes introduced into the world of poverty without having to actually live in poverty like Sandra. Because Sandra lives in poverty without adequate food and clothing and Lena does not live in poverty, they are two completely different girls. Even though both Sandra and Lena are African
American, they experience life on opposite sides of the track.
Having a family or lack of family can also contribute to how a young girl views the world. For example, Lena has quite a prosperous family, while Sandra’s is almost nonexistent. Lena has both her parents, two brothers, and her grandmother, all who live in the same home with Lena. However, Sandra gets to come home to a drunken mother who remains consistent about bringing her boyfriends home along with her to venture up to her bedroom while Sandra is in the house. Lena could always depend on her family members to be there for her whenever she gets into any trouble. But on the other hand, no one was there for Sandra when she found the drugs which started her onto a path which leads her to trouble.
Because of the various backgrounds of both Lena and Sandra, Lena would not have to find a job, while Sandra has to find a job in order to maintain food and clothing. Sammy offers a simple job to Sandra in the general store he owns with his wife so Sandra could buy food and stay out of trouble. But because Lena’s family owns their own business, Lena does not have to worry about having enough money for food, shelter, or clothing like Sandra does. Furthermore, Lena is more likely to take for granted her money and home, while Sandra lives from day to day making sure she survives until the next day.
One similar aspect of the two African American girls lives is the amount of friends that each of them has. For instance, Sandra never really had any friends to speak of until she met Chink. Chink offered many wonderful things to Sandra that she had been longing for. He gave her love, affection, protection, and friendship. Sandra needed to be loved and needed by someone since she was only dealt hardship and coldness from her mother. Like Sandra, Lena has very few friends also. Lena meets Sarah and has a brief friendship with her until Sarah moves too far away for them to maintain their friendship. In addition, Lena’s family is probably her only friends. Similarly, both girls remained sort of loners within their own little worlds with very few friends.
All of these different, yet important aspects of Lena’s and Sandra’s lives affected them in various ways. Because of the diverse backgrounds from which the girls came from, they lead dissimilar lives from each other. For instance, Lena being the baby of the family, leads her family to special care of her and watch out for her every move. However, Sandra has no one to look out for her until she meets Chink, and she has to care for herself. Sandra knows that the world is a harsh and cruel place to live in because she has experienced it first hand. On the other hand, Lena experiences with the world have been pretty great and as a result she sees the world as a great place to live. The numerous differences remains clearly seen in both of these novels which illustrates that anyone of any race can live in poverty or in a middle class society. In addition, race does not play a part in how rich or poor a person can become.
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"Tina McElroy Ansa." Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Ed. William Andrews et al. 1997.