The chapter contains two extracts from two different autobiographical episodes from the lives of two women – Zitkala Sa and Bama. Both are victims of social discriminations. Zitkala Sa is the victim of racial discrimination whereas Bama is the victim of caste discriminations. In both the extracts, the writers look back on their childhood and reflect on their relationship with mainstream culture which illtreated them when they were child. But both the accounts are not simple narratives of oppression. Rather they reveal how oppression was resisted by both the narrators in their own ways. Zitkala-Sa and Bama were very young but not so young that they would not understand the evil scheme of the mainstream culture. The injustice of their society did not escape their notice also. Their bitter childhood experience sowed the seeds of rebellion in them earlier on.
Both the accounts are based in two distant cultures. The first is that of Native Americans and the second is that of the Tamil Dalits. But the commonality that brings them closer is the fact that in both cases, the mainstream culture marginalized the underprivileged section of that society. This gave rise to the conflict between the mainstream culture and the marginalized community, which is exquisitely showcased in ‘Memories of Childhood’.
The Cutting of My Long Hair
- Gertrude Simmons: the narrator of the story
- Zudewin: a friend of Gertrude Simmons
- A pale-faced woman: a teacher or a member of staff at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle.
It highlights the despise, racial discrimination and unhealthy treatment towards the humanity in general and women in particular.
This account relates to an American Indian woman who becomes the victim of racial discrimination. She is admitted to a school where native Indians do not get respect, honour, dignity and due weightage in America. She is forced by the whites to follow their traditions and traits. Simmons is dragged out and tied to a chair to shingle out her long hair. She cries, struggles, kicks, resists, shows reluctance and she ultimately feels like one of the many animals driven by a herder.
This extract is a painful revelation of a particular period of the life which the writer had to suffer during her hostel days. It was the first day of her boarding school situated in the land of apples. The children were given the task of apple picking in the bitter and biting cold. They were taken to the breakfast hall and the girl was feeling stressed. She did not know the table manners. She was being watched very carefully by a strange pale-faced woman. The girl felt very fearful and insulted. Her friend who could understand some English, told her that the pale strange woman intended to cut her long hair. Zitkala-Sa learned from her mother that hair would be shingled only for the unskilled warrior, cowards and mourners. She decided to fight back and got herself hidden in a dim room under the bed. Everybody looked for her and called her name but eventually caught. Her long hair was cut, although she resisted a lot. She spent her rest of the life there like a small animal being a part of a herd, which was driven by a herder.
GIST OF THE LESSON PART –I
o The first part deals with the account of Simmons, An American Indian, who fought against the prejudices of the society against American Indians.
o She describes her experiences on her first day at the Carlisle Indian School.
o The customs and rules of the place were strange and new to her.
o She was forced to wear clothes that were considered undignified in her culture.
o At breakfast, she was embarrassed as she did not know the routine of the place.
o When she comes to know that they were planning to cut her hair, she protests by hiding under the bed, even though she knew it was futile. In her culture, it was the cowards whose hair was shingled.
o She felt like an animal driven by a herder.
PART – II
o The second part is an excerpt from the autobiography ‘Karukku’ by Bama – a Tamil Dalit.
o She was in her third grade when she becomes aware of the indignities that the lower caste people face.
o She happens to see an elderly person from her community abase himself in front of a higher caste person as he was not supposed to touch the food that he was ordered to fetch for the landlord. 109
o Later, her brother explains to her that the incident was not at all funny as she initially thought, but very pathetic. The people from the lower caste were treated as untouchables.
o She was deeply saddened and decided to study hard to overcome discrimination.Other Chapter Summary