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Selina and Camila: Finding a Sense of Self
A gentle hand reaches out; arms cradle a new arrival to this complex world. This simple gesture will come to signify a bond between two, the bond of a mother’s love, the bond that can only be shared by mother and daughter. Life does not always follow the gentle streams and brooks of one’s choosing. Typically, life goes raging down the rivers of its own. Many people do not realize however, that there is always to be a clearing in the turbulent waters and a hand extended to pull one out. The hand always reaches again and again ready to pull one up from a storm. Although it sometimes might be difficult to see, there is always an avenue of escape, a crutch to lean on time and time again. Whether it is through the spirit of the dead or the pulse of the living, a mother’s love is always present.
Mothers and daughters have been written about, criticized, publicized, condemned, and praised for as long as the relationship has existed. These relationships can be complex, but also filled with compassion and love. They play an important role in determining who a daughter turns out to be as an adult. Each of the daughters in the novels “Brown Girl, Brownstones,” by Paule Marshall, and “In the Name of Salome,” by Julia Alvarez, faced the task of defining themselves and separating from their mother in quest for their own identity, similar to the task that most women find themselves having to face sometime during their lives.
Usually when a girl goes through adolescence, the relationship between her and her mother begin to change in many different ways, but can grow at the same time. Accompanied by raging hormones, mixed emotions and the often confused intellect of puberty, this development of independence is not always a smooth process. Consequenly, wars between a mother and daughter can often ravage a relationship as exemplified in the relationship between Selina and her mother, Silla, in the novel “Brown Girl, Brownstones.” As a young child, much of the way Selina viewed herself was a result of all the messages and opinions that her mother embedded into her mind. As a black female growing up during World War II, Selina was poised between the expectations of her Bajan culture and family, while consequently confronted with the challenge of trying to fit into the “white-man’s world.
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Selina yearned to be a part of the modern, liberal American society and found it a struggle to define herself and open herself up to new cultures and points of view different from her own. Growing up, Selina began to question her culture, womanhood, and herself. It was while sifting through all the messages she had been fed about the way she should behave, how she should look, what she should do for a living, and who she should marry, that Selina struggled an internal war—fighting between who she was and who her mother wanted her to be. This was demonstrated after an argument with her mother, in which Selina contemplates, “If only there was a way to prove to them and herself how totally she disavowed their way! But how, when her own truth was so uncertain and untried? How, when she knew nothing of the world or its ways?” (225). For much of the novel, Selina remained unsure of the values she desired. However, she was certain that she did not want to fit the role which her culture and mainly her mother imposed on her.
At first, Selina could not bring herself to acknowledge her mother's heritage, having defined herself as "Deighton's Selina" in opposition to her mother and the Barbadian community. However, Selina discovered that she was very much like the mother she rebeled against, who was repeatedly represented as an embodiment of the Barbadian community. In an effort to raise funds to run away with her boyfriend and defy Silla and the community, Selina’s behavior essentially epitomized Silla’s character. Knowing the scholarship offered by the Barbadian Association was intended to fund schooling, Selina’s devious decision to "be contrite, dedicated, the most willing worker they've ever had" to obtain the scholarship money exemplified her mother entirely (267). Even Selina’s phrasing resembled the vow Silla made to obtain the money for Deighton's land, no matter what it took: "'I gon do it. . . . Some kind of way I gon do it'" (75). Selina’s oppositional course brought her full circle and mirrored the ruthless pursuit of goals that was her mother's trademark. However, Selina couldn’t heal the emptiness in her soul, discover who she wanted to be, and who she wanted become without falling apart in her mother’s home.
Even though Selina knew that her home life did not define her and she also knew that someday she would have another home life, one where she would not be the daughter, and where she could have input on its establishment, Selina could not wait. Selina’s desperate desire to break away from her constricting mother lured her into what she thought was a final stance in defiance. Ironically, it was through Selina’s defiance of her mother that Selina became even more like Silla than ever. Selina even recognizes this and admits, "…you see I'm truly your child. Remember how you used to talk about how you left home and came here alone as a girl of eighteen and was your own woman? I used to love hearing that. And that's what I want. I want it!" (307). Despite everything, Silla’s love for Selina didn’t disappear, it just penetrated her heart so deeply that Selina felt overwhelmed. Alone at novel’s end, having loved and lost, Selina leaves her home banished of the feeling of absence and nothingness. She gained a better understanding of the world she lived in and her search for identity revealed there was no one solution either of despair or happiness.
“In the Name of Salome,” Camila set out on a quest of her inner questionings, a void she knew she possessed from the moment her mother, Salome, died. Throughout the novel, Camila lived her life vicariously in the shadow of Salome's greatness, a woman she knew only through poetry and the bits and pieces she uncovered and learned from family stories. Thus, Camila was unable to see the real Salome; the once insecure teenage girl who possessed a passion for freedom, the naive young woman who longed for true love, and the mother who had fierce desire to change a country for the sake of her children. Salome was a mother who desperately wanted her daughter “to have her own name, to be borne up and away from the life that was closing down around me” (299). However, Camila feels lost without having “a mother to turn to at difficult moments in her life, a hand on her brow, a soothing voice in her ear” and thus finds herself in despair (31).
Camila felt a great need to live up to the accomplishments of Salome. The internal pressure Camila placed upon herself gave away her right to live life on her own terms. Consequently, as a young child, Camila often saw herself draped under a dark, foreboding cloud. Her aunt told her that “her mother suffered as a young girl from depression, which was called melancholy then” and Camila was no stranger to her mother’s depression and often “feels it, lapping at her knees, and rising” (192). Camila’s darkness controlled her every move, every thought, and every breath. Even as an adult, Camila clung to this monster and considered it a friend, for she had nothing else. Frequently, she “feels a pang of that old loneliness she felt as a young girl when she would sink into depression and want to disappear” (250). Camila desperately wanted her mother to be proud and share more than melancholy with her.
Camila’s pained and clouded over eyes refused to see that her unyielding self-comparison to her mother led to the stilted adult life that she lived. In reflection, Camila admitted “That is another reason why I do not want to be buried here among the great dead. All I have to do is put my life next to my mother’s life, and I see the difference” (338). Essentially, Camila trapped herself in trying to live up to her mother’s accomplishments. Camila was “after all, the anonymous one, the who has done nothing remarkable” (69). Camila’s dissatisfaction permeated through all of her attitudes and relationships—ultimately fashioning an unwilling acceptance of ambiguity. For Camilla, “it sort of made sense. Hadn’t it always been easier for her to live abstractly rather than in the flesh?”(151). At novel’s end, Camila’s road to discover her mother led to herself, and she became more of herself, of what she always knew was there, but could never quite grasp. Through looking at the world with new eyes, Camila explained, “I tried all kinds of strategies. I learned her story. I put it side by side with my own. I wove our two lives together as strong as a rope and with it I pulled myself out of the pit of depression and self-doubt” (335). It was through Camila’s realization that it was time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change because happiness, safety and security were not planning to come galloping over the next horizon that she finally figured out that her path in life could stand alone from her mother. Camila’s path could take its own direction—a direction of her choosing.
Through each of their own journeys, Selina and Camila shared the faltering voices of adults, still struggling with the chains of their mother’s influences—a construct that held, bound and choked their search for freedom, individuality and, most importantly, happiness with their self. While running from a world that she knew, to one that was distant and foreign, one from which there was no return and no escape; Selina took an incredible risk to find herself. Camila, not as bold as Selina, was more afraid of stepping out on a new leaf and thus it took her longer to find a sense of her own identity. Although Camila and Selina never really full found the answers they were looking for, they each benefited from the experience they gained discovering themselves. In the long run, the lack of finding a specific answer entitled each woman to grow and learn. At the end of the journey, both women were in position to look back at their life and to be able to say, "I learned. I grew. I did something.” It is only through this growth process, that a sense of serenity and self acceptance can emerge.