Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Hereditary Scars

I remember a dream that I once had where someone had cloned my father and someone taken away my real father and replaced him with this fake. In my dream I could tell that something was off, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until suddenly I had the epiphany that illustrated the horror of the situation. I finally realized that the clone was not my father when I noticed that he did not have a very unique and distinctive scar on the right side of his face. The dream continued to where I ran out of the house and into the street where a various array of bizarre dream-like things happened (most of which I forget), but for some reason I always remembered this beginning part of the dream, and I think it highlights a very important point.

My father got his scar in India when he was racing from work to the hospital at the news that my sister was being born. In a hurry to be there as soon as possible to welcome his daughter into the world, he was swiped by a truck and got to the hospital via an ambulance instead. Due to poor health care at the time, the scar is still a prominent fixture on his face. It does not go as far as anything disfiguring, but it is a peculiar mark that has come to represent part of what he is, or at least what he represents to me as a father figure and it has therefore been something welcomed among my siblings. I think my nightmare about the clone father demonstrates the fact that one’s history, and travel experiences, are intrinsically related to who that person becomes later in life. My father would not be the father I know if he had not been through the experience of getting that scar, so seeing him without it led me to question if it was truly the same person at all.

In They Who Do Not Grieve, the importance of travel is not so focused personally (although that is examined in some cases), but rather on the genealogical travel that takes place from Lalolagi (and even her mother), down to Mary, and then eventually to Malu. The concept of the unfinished scar as a brand that is seared into both Mary (who is then stolen away by her grandmother) and Malu who is not even told of the story or significance until right before Lalolagi’s death, does not necessarily manifest itself. Lalolagi’s unfinished tattoo should not have any influence on how Malu is viewed, and yet it is a shame that is passed down to Malu through a social structure that believes in character as being hereditarily linked.

This discussion brings to light the question of what is natural. Sometimes what is naturally and what is socially cultivated within us at an early age is difficult to distinguish between. Many of the characters discuss differences between appearance and reality such as Mrs. Winterson “putting her face on” (pg. 24) or her friend who appears so healthy yet Malu finds her “kneeling in front of a toilet with a finger down her throat…covered in her own vomit” (pg. 82). However, one of the more interesting instances is when Malu (in her dream) sees the naked flute player and the first thing she does “is not look at him…this was the most natural thing for me to do” (pg. 44). Is this truly a natural reaction? Shame and embarrassment at the sight of other naked bodies, upon closer examination, are essentially just reactions that we are cultivated to have from youth. This idea of distinguishing between what is natural and hereditary vs. what is cultivated and learned through interaction is one that Figiel explores through such situations.

This may seem like a strange relation to make back to my dream of the missing scar, but not really upon closer examination. That vigor and devotion to parenthood that unfortunately led to the accident, and thus the scar, is something that my father has passed down to me through my years. There are important things that can be passed down through family, but not inherently. What gets passed down is selectively and deliberately chosen and then relayed through story, love, interaction, and contact.

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