Christopher McCune October 21, 2010
EN 384D: Travel Literature Blog Post: Figiel
A Different Kind of Travel
They Who Do Not Grieve, by Sia Figiel, is a powerful account of the hardship and struggles that Samoan women must face as they grow up amid crippling poverty and overwhelming feelings of sorrow and grief. Although Malu and Alofa, the two young Samoan protagonists, are the main focus of the story, Figiel also weaves in an incredibly captivating portrait of another island inhabitant, Mrs. Winterson. Living in a big house on the island, with Malu hired as one of her servants, Mrs. Winterson is tragic character in her own way. She is a white, rich, pretentious, American trophy wife, who is also sad, lonely and insecure in her relationship with her husband. In Malu's words, Mrs. Winterson is constantly "wearing masks" to hide behind, and for that reason I found her to be one of the most interesting characters in the novel.
Early on in the book, Figiel gives us a look at Mrs. Winterson back when she was just Cath, the college student, caught up the sixties, in the mania of rebellion, sex, and rock n' roll. Here we get a look at Cath before the masks went on, before she became Mrs. Winterson, back when she was young, ideological, and full of dreams. But, as Figiel writes, "suddenly the sixties were over. And the seventies. The eighties. And now the nineties. And we realized that the 'trust no one over thirty' world we once lived in was gone. And right before anyone knew it, we were all over thirty ourselves. In our fifties for crying out loud…We became our own worst nightmare."
Here, in They Who Do Not Grieve, Figiel is touching on a universal issue, one which we all will face, and that so many people seem to fear. I am talking, of course, about the natural process of aging. I never want to graduate. I don't want to grow up. I'm not ready for the real world. These are the lines one will hear, especially among the upperclassmen, tossed around frequently on college campuses all over the nation. As students we say these things honestly and without a shred of shame, and receive sympathetic nods of agreement from not just our peers, but from our teachers and parents as well. College students, young adults already whether they want to realize it or not, are currently suffering from an epidemic that I think of as acute Peter Pan Syndrome. I won't grow up, the college student declares defiantly, afraid to leave the $50,000 per year daycare centers that we know, and love, as college.
Certainly, though, I am not looking down from my high horse on my fellow students who are, ironically, dreading the day on which they will finally receive that eviction notice, their college diploma. Indeed, every time my mom calls to ask me how life is going at Loyola, I reply, "It's great. I never want to graduate." If college has become our Neverland, than I'm right behind Peter Pan, flying over Great Britain, following "the first star on the left, straight on through morning." But still this novel, just like all the travel literature we have read this semester, really made me think hard on why, like Mrs. Winterson, we view growing up as "our own worst nightmare." After all, aging is really just another form of travel. Just as traveling the globe helps us learn things about ourselves, so too does our journey through life. Truthfully, it would not be any more natural to avoid the journey into adulthood, than it would be avoid ever traveling outside of our own homes. Just as our physical travels define, change, and enrich us, the process of growing, in years, maturity, and responsibility, enriches us as well. Mrs. Winterson threw on a mask and refused to grow as she left her youth behind, just as some people refuse to immerse themselves and be changed by their travels.
So maybe, just maybe, it is time for us to welcome our growth and all the changes that come with graduating from college. But what's that you say? When do I plan on doing this you ask? No, not now. I'll grow up soon. But never now.