Within the novels White Oleander written by Janet Fitch, and Push written by Sapphire, the main characters endure a journey of self creation and enlightenment. Within both novels the reoccurring theme, regaining of identity is apparent. However, the protagonists within both texts come to a realization that life is not about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself. Within both novels, the main characters endure the effects of living within their parent' shadows, the loss of their innocence, and the emotional impairments from their parents attempting to live through them. Within White Oleander the main character Astrid lives within her mother's shadow, causing her to feel isolation and a disconnection from her own identity. In Push, the protagonist Claireece Precious Jones seeks redemption from her life, as she desires to find her own voice. Within both novels, the two main characters sense of self is continuously thrown off balance. When both characters grasp the concept that they are the only ones who can make a life for themselves, they begin to not only regain their confined identity, but to also create it. Through the inevitable escape and restrictions placed upon them, both protagonists begin to regain their identity.
Within the novels White Oleander and Push, the main characters suffer the harmful effects of living in their parents shadows. Within both protagonists, lays the alluring desire to liberate themselves, and release their own identity into the world; separate from their parents. Both characters feel the urge to regain their restrained identity. However, it seems they are on the wrong journey, and they continuously become discouraged. It is not until both characters realize; it is not about finding their identity, it is about creating it, and that they inevitably escape the captivity they are in. Astrid, the protagonist from the novel White Oleander is the only child of Ingrid, a single mother living in Los Angeles California, who is a brilliantly obsessed poet. Ingrid uses her alluring beauty and charm to manipulate men. When Ingrid falls apart over her lover, the mysterious and private world that Astrid shares with her mother is destroyed. Ingrid, suffering from anger becomes deranged, and kills the man. She inevitably is sentenced to life in prison. From this point on, Astrid journeys through a rotation of foster homes in an endeavour to find her place in the world under discouraging conditions. As she is unwillingly subjected to each home, she is interjected into a new universe. Each home comes with its own set of rules, laws, and moral lessons to be learned. Although she cannot see it at the time, Astrid's experiences are encouraging her journey of self creation. Astrid confronts the loneliness and isolation that she had been experiencing, as she attempts to discover who she can become. The relentless force of Astrid's emergent self takes control as she penetrates the shadow her mother has placed upon her, and begins to break free. This is elucidated through a conversation between Astrid and her mother. The conversation goes as follows,
"There's nothing wrong with being a Christian, Astrid said. Are you out of your mind? How did this happen? I raised you, not a pack of Bible-thumping trailer trash, replied Ingrid. I raised you to think for yourself. No you didn't, said Astrid. You raised me to think like you. You look at me, and you don't like what you see. But this is the price, mother - the price of belonging to you. I made you. I'm in your blood. You don't go anywhere until I let you go said Ingrid. Then let me go mother" (Fitch, pg 431).
As her mother is help captive in jail, Astrid is given the opportunity to break free from the captivation she has been enduring. With her mind free of her mother's manipulation, Astrid strives to give her individuality a chance, and see where it will take her. As she visits her mother in jail continuously throughout the novel, Astrid is incessantly thrown off balance. This causes her to retrace the progress she had made, and begin her endeavour all over again. The first foster home Astrid attends is that off a former stripper and drug addict named Starr. She has two biological children, and two foster's as well. Starr begins to believe allegations that Ray, her boyfriend, and Astrid have been having an affair. Starr begins to get jealous of their obvious connection and shoots Astrid with a gun. Astrid escapes with a few broken bones and stitches. The emotional tribulations are the true after effect of the situation. Through this experience, Astrid's connection with her mother deepens, as Ingrid is glad to know that no one else is having an impact on Astrid. Her next home is with Ed and Marvel Turlock. They have two young children, which they expect Astrid to take care of. When Astrid befriends Olivia, the Turlock's next door neighbour, she is negatively influenced into a scene of drugs and sex. Olivia takes Astrid on a walk for her fifteenth birthday where she gets bitten by a pack of dogs. When the Turlock's find her in the morning at Olivia's house, they eject Astrid from their home. Once again, Astrid's mother is delighted at the idea that she has corrupted Astrid to the point where she cannot fit into any other life but Ingrid's. Inevitably, when Astrid is submerged into another foster home, Ingrid fears Astrid will penetrate the shadow she has worked so hard to imprison Astrid in. The final home Astrid arrives at is with a Russian immigrant named Rena Grushenka. Astrid intentionally chooses to stay with Rene, over a conventionally "happy" family, because she does not want to risk getting attached, and fears it may be very easy to forget the pain she has endured and move on. Ingrid always told Astrid that to really experience life, it is essential to experience pain. As much as Astrid strives to break free of her mother's restraints, she is scared to. At her last resort, is becomes apparent why Astrid continuously attempts to get the approval of her mother, and taints her chances with the foster families. She wanted to remain in her mothers shadow; it was comfortable, and familiar. Astrid demonstrates this feeling by explaining the isolation and loneliness without her mother's control. She says,
"Don't attach yourself to anyone who shows you the least bit of attention because you're lonely. Loneliness is the human condition. No one is ever going to fill that space. The best you can do is know yourself... know what you want" (Fitch, pg 237).
Astrid knew she did not want to forget her mother or lose who she was. She felt secure in the shadow, even though it was destroying her. Astrid was raised in a variety of diverse foster homes; while never losing her strong connection with her manipulating mother.
While comparing and analyzing the novel White Oleander to Push, it is apparent that the theme of living within a shadow is relevant to both texts. Within Push, the main character Claireece Precious Jones, an illiterate sixteen-year-old girl from Harlem feels invisible. She is invisible to her father who rapes her and impregnates her with two children, her mother who harass her and abuses her on a daily bases, and to the authorities who disregard any need to help an illiterate black girl. Claireece struggles with escaping her negative reality. The primary reason for this is her father's control over her identity. Claireece is evidently comparable to Astrid from White Oleander in the sense that she is trying to escape the captivity her parents have placed upon her, and break free from their shadow. An example of this is when Claireece says,
"How long you gonna stand there like your retarded, said Claireece's mother. I start to tell her I don't, don't call me that, but all, everything is out me. I jus' wanna lay down, listen to radio, look at picture of Farrakhan, a real man, who don't fuck his daughter, fuck child. Everything feels like it is too big for my mind. Can't nuffin' fit when I think 'bout Daddy" (Sapphire, pg 58).
Throughout the novel, Precious's voice seems to fade in and out, demonstrating her loss of identity. However, her urge to create a identity for herself becomes more noticeably dominant as the story progresses. In a desperate attempt to escape her father's shadow, Precious attempts to commit suicide; however, she fails. When she gives birth to her first child, Lil Mongo, her father begins to treat her as though she is nonexistent. Later, when she returns to school, again pregnant, she is suspended. This is elucidated when Claireece and her principal have an argument. Claireece's principal says,
"This is your second baby she says. I wonder what else it says in that file with my name on it. I hate her. I think we should have a parent teacher conference, - me, you, and your mother. For what? I asked. I ain't do nuffin'. You're pregnant and - You can't suspend me for being pregnant!" (Sapphire, pg 8).
Soon after Claireece is unfairly suspended for being pregnant, she is then forced to drop out and take an "Each One Teach One" GED program for adults; to learn the basics of reading and writing. Precious apprehensively enters the program; and eventually learns to read and write. Claireece begins to feel a sense of dignity, and feels as though she has worth. With this new mindset, and journey of self discovery under way, Claireece decides that her home is an unfit environment to raise her second son, Abdul in. So, she takes up residence in a shelter, leading to a halfway house. While living there, Claireece begins to regain her confidence and feels secure with the person she is becoming. She attends school regularly and is able to support her children. At this point within the novel it appears that Claireece has escaped the shadow and bondage her father has placed upon her. However, when Claireece is reluctant to move forward with her life, and begin to date men, it becomes apparent the control her father has on her. As in White Oleander, Astrid feels hesitant as well to move forward with her life, and venture outside of the shadow without her parents' consent. The constant efforts made by both protagonists to satisfy their parents are continuously diminished by the rejection they face. It is only when Astrid and Claireece stop seeking the unattainable approval of their parents that they can move forward with their life, and create their identity. Inevitably by the end of both novels, Astrid and Claireece come to a conclusion that they must cease the journey of trying to find themselves, to create themselves.
Within the novels White Oleander and Push, the protagonists are forced to endure a loss of innocence. There is a definite lack of empathy for these characters, as they unconsciously venture on their mental version of the journey of the hero. Within White Oleander, society seems to disregard the individual needs of Astrid, as she becomes a motherless child. She is suddenly thrown into the foster care system, and referred to as just another number. The effects of this are substantial, causing Astrid to feel ostracised and isolated; as if she has no other choice in life other than to deal with her imprisoned identity. Astrid is inevitably forced to grow up. This is elucidated when Astrid explains that no one willing chooses this life. It is the life of an artist; it is given to you. Astrid says,
"I know what you are learning to endure. There is nothing to be done. Make sure nothing is wasted. Take notes. Remember it all, every insult, every tear. Tattoo it on the inside of your mind. In life, knowledge of poisons is essential. I've told you; nobody becomes an artist unless they have to" (Fitch, pg 232).
Astrid feels isolated from her mother, society, peers in her generation group, and especially the families of the foster care services. While Astrid is in the foster care program, she is not properly taken care of and must fend for herself. The emotional and mental torture of having to endure this loss of innocence causes Astrid to act out in several different ways; she becomes shy and quiet, she cuts off her long blonde hair, and while in search of her inner identity, she completely reconfigures her outer identity. Astrid begins to rebel against everything her mother has made her due to the isolation she is experiencing. This is Astrid's way of transitioning from her mother's shadow into her individuality. Astrid attempts to prove to not only herself, but her mother, that she can become her own individual whether Ingrid approves of it or not. Astrid's experimentation with different forms of Goth she can become is a direct relation to her desire to be independent. At the same time within the novel that Astrid is experiencing an identity crisis, she is also cutting off all her hair. This can be a representation of the fact that Astrid cannot mentally liberate herself from her imprisonment, so her only way of expression is through a physical form. Astrid takes after her mother, and is very artistic; she see's and feels things in a different way than everyone else. This is demonstrated when Astrid says,
"Everybody asks why I started at the end and worked back to the beginning...the reason is simple, I couldn't understand the beginning until I had reached the end. There were too many pieces of the puzzle missing...too much she would never tell. I could sell these things. People want to buy them. But I'd set all this on fire first. She'd like that. That's what she would do. She'd make it just to burn it. I couldn't afford this one, but the beginning deserved something special. But how do I show that nothing, not a taste, not a smell, not even the color of the sky has ever been as clear and sharp as it was when I belonged to her. I don't know how to express that being with someone so dangerous...was the last time that I felt safe" (Fitch, pg 243).
This quote illustrates the isolation and fear Astrid has endured sue to her mother. Although she can see things in a different light; just like her mother, this is what separates her from the rest of society. She would rather fit in, rather than stand out of the crowd, due to the pain she endures. Astrid is more susceptible to depression, isolation, and feeling trapped. Due to her deep emotions, Astrid expresses herself in a more deranged manner than most people.
Within the novel Push, there is a dominant theme of loss of innocence that directly affects the protagonist. The main character, Claireece Precious Jones, is forced to endure the forced affects of loss of innocence. When Claireece was only twelve years old when she had her father's first baby. The effects she has had to overcome from being rapped by her father, emotionally and physically abused by her mother, and told she has no worth by society, has all caused Claireece to lose her innocence. Claireece is trapped by the mental tribulations her father has caused her. She cannot seem to view the world as a respectable or moral place anymore. Her father has tarnished any pleasant conception she once had about life; most predominantly her own life. Claireece's mother continuously abuses and batters her about becoming pregnant. She tells Clarieece that she is a tramp, and beats her. This is clearly illustrated when Claireece's mother is ordering her to prepare supper for her, and become aggressive. Her mother says,
"I said I'm hungry you fat little piggy cunt bitch. Get your jezebel ass up, and get to dinner before I give you something to cry about. Claireece hesitantly walked into the kitchen, fully knowing what was about to happen. As he mother approached Claireece clenched her hands together. Her mother began to beat her, yet again" (Sapphire, pg 57).
This demonstrates the forced and inevitable loss of innocence that Claireece is forced to endure. With Claireece's father raping and impregnating her, and her mother consistently beating her, Claireece has no other choice but to unwillingly give birth to the baby. This is a dominant example of just how forced her loss of innocence has become.
Within both novels, White Oleander and Push, the protagonists experience a loss of innocence caused by their parents. Both of these characters greatly suffer from a loss of innocence which they are forced to endure. Inevitably, both protagonists come to terms with their lack of innocence and realize they cannot continue to look to the past; they must create their identity and life for themselves.
Throughout the novel White Oleander, Astrid's mother Ingrid continuously attempts and succeeds at living through her daughter. It appears to be a last resort for Ingrid to grasp onto some control over Astrid. Although Ingrid is imprisoned by the law, she feels the undeniable need to penetrate every aspect of Astrid's new life, and control it. Although Astrid wants more than anything to break free of her mother's restraints, she fears the isolation and loneliness of leaving her mother's controlling guardianship. However, Astrid is aware that she must let go of her mother to create her own identity. Astrid illuminates this by saying,
"Don't attach yourself to anyone who shows you the least bit of attention because you're lonely. Loneliness is the human condition. No one is ever going to fill that space. The best thing you can do it know yourself... know what you want" (Fitch, pg 421).
Due to the fact that Astrid is aware that her mother wants to live through her, she allows it. Predictably, this causes Astrid mental and emotional tribulations. Astrid comments on the concept that she must let go of her mother to have a change at regaining herself. Astrid elucidates this by saying, "You've got to let go of who you were, to become who you will be" (Fitch, pg 278). This directly exemplifies that the effects of Astrid's mother living through her. This can be damaging to an individual's process of regaining their identity.
Within the novel Push, the main character Claireece can be related to Astrid, the protagonist within White Oleander. Similarly to Astrid, Claireece is enduring the everlasting effects of her parents living through her. The mental and emotional tribulations that come with losing one's identity cause long term eternal damage. This is specifically exemplified through Clarieece's mother. The resentment, anger, and judgement her mother holds against her feeds the concept that she is living through Clarieece. Her mother ultimately wants the best for Claireece, even though she has a deranged way of showing it. Claireece's mother feels personally let down, embarrassed, and ashamed of Claireece and wants her to choose the "right" decisions. However, to Clarieece's mother, the right decisions to her are morally wrong to Claireece. This is elucidated when Claireece's mother comments on her by saying,
"She thinks shes cute right now, all she is, is just an embarrassment. Shoulda' kept her damn mouth shut. It's a pity now; because he gave her more children then he gave me. Stupid little pig, who she think she it? What am I gonna do for cigarette now? She only makes the wrong decisions, not the right ones" (Sapphire, pg 68).
The concept that Claireece is to achieve her mother's unbearable expectations is too much for her to live up to. It becomes evident through analyzing the novels White Oleander, and Push that the emotional tribulations of a parent living though a child has destructive long term effects upon that child.
Throughout the novels White Oleander written by Janet Fitch, and Push written by Sapphire, the main characters come to a realization that life is not about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself. The characters embark upon a journey of self creation and enlightenment. Within both texts the dominant theme, regaining of identity is apparent. Within both novels, the main characters endure the effects of living within their parent' shadows, the loss of their innocence, and the emotional impairments from their parents attempting to live through them. Within both novels, the protagonist's sense of self is diminished and thrown off balance. When both characters realize the concept that they are the only ones who can make a life for themselves, they begin to not only regain their confined identity, but to also create it. Through the foreseeable escape and limitations placed upon them, both protagonists begin to regain their identity.
- Fitch, Janet. White Oleander. New York NY: Little, Brown and Company, 1999. Print.
- Sapphire. Push. New York NY: Vintage Books a Division of Random House. Inc, 1997. Print.