Honestly, wow. This story was amazing. At first I was a bit thrown by the present tense, but after reading for a page I forgot about it completely. This story’s comment on Trump’s election and racial inequalities was outstanding. I didn’t realize this story would be about this, but after the nurse commented on Asian women dying their hair I knew there would be some underlying racial issues. I feel like there’s so much to unpack from this- Becky’s murder, Wendy’s mental illness, the election, hate crimes- but for now I want to focus on the election and the very real scare that occurred.
My mom is a legal alien, Australian born and raised. I remember how afraid and stressed my mom was during the entire election, and I remember the morning after he was announced president. My mom was crying. Her green card was set to expire soon and she had no idea what it would take to get it renewed or if she would be able to. My mom is white and she was terrified. I couldn’t imagine what it was like for those whose bodies portrayed their heritage, because, as we know, some US citizens were questioned simply based on skin color. This story highlighted something very real and personal to a lot of families. The flow of the story was impeccable; I had been consuming the story so hungrily that I was surprised when I reached the end as quickly as I did.
This story was really depressing and kind of scary to me. The way the author included the very indirect terms about the president and added the little rhyme/ song parts and different voices, really added to the creepy level. The original “rhyme” at the beginning of the story really set the tone for the rest of it in my opinion. It leaves so many questions, and sets you up wondering who Becky is, and what exactly happened to her. It’s a creepy rhyme, and as you read, you learn the narrator has hallucinations and had someone she knew be murdered. This all gits within the eerie vibe of the first rhyme. As I read, I kept expecting things like the voices in her head, or the random images she imagined to appear, just by having read the opening rhyme. It’s a really strong beginning, because it draws the reader in and makes them wonder about what’s going to happen in the story, and what’s going to come up. I like how everything ties back to that original rhyme, and you see parts of it throughout the story. I think it was a smart addition that not only draws in the reader, but it works with the story because everything goes with it.
“What a Terrible Thing it Was” by Esmé Weijun Wang is my favorite story we’ve read in this class so far. It has an aspect of the narrator’s, Wendy, deteriorating mental health as well as interestingly bringing in the election as another huge piece of it. However, I was particularly interested in the Epigraph included in the beginning as well as the pieces of it sprinkled throughout the story. Reading this before the story confused me a lot about how this connected with a story about mental health. However, finding the pieces of it throughout the story as the Becky character is introduced is powerful. Going back through, I found that the part that says, “let me braid your hair. I can’t, said Becky, I’ve died way over there” reveals so much about how Becky felt during her life. In the very beginning, the receptionist says she loves Wendy’s hair because it’s long, black and natural. She mentions that she’s sad when Asain women dye their hair. Later on, it’s revealed that Becky had a bright red streak in her hair and was considered strange to a lot of people. However, her oddness was actually normal, but not to other people’s standards. The second part of this sentence in the epigraph saying she can’t (or doesn’t want) people to play with (or have opinions about how she wears) her hair. I thought back to page 298 where it says, “Becky could be anything, once she died, and the rest of us would have to live.” Now she Becky was dead, she didn’t have to deal with differing opinions of how she should live her life.
Journal 12: “What a Terrible Thing It Was.”
I liked this story, not so much because it was pleasant to read but because it felt real and relevant. Not only was the story enticing because of the way it switched back and forth from the present to past, but the combination of the depression and the election and that tension was also a point of interest. In particular, the shifts between the past and present gives the reader a better understanding of what is happening in the present. One of the first things I noticed was the rhyme at the very beginning of the story. This rhyme, though not exactly repeated is carried throughout the story. I thought that Wang’s ability to begin with confusion and yet switch back to the past in order to explain what is happening is extremely effective. There is so much going on in the story, with the main character’s depression and psychosis, which we learn is from the flashbacks stems from the death of another Asian girl in her room town. This, along with the focus on the election, highlight the element of race which adds to the complexity of the story.
Overall i really enjoyed this story. Stories about mental health from a first person perspective always hit close to home for me. In addition to that i always find it interesting when stories like this discuss the effect on someones mental state by large outside forces like the election of 2016. In most of the stories i’ve read they generally tend to focus on much more personal and “small” scale problems. I was a welcome change.
Wang’s story “What a Terrible Thing It Was” utilizes numerous narrative tools that implicate the deeper meaning of the story and simultaneously provide the reader with a unique lens into a window of one person’s life at a certain point in time. Most interestingly, to me, was the oscillation of contexts. Wendy provides us with information about the various levels of what a psychologist might refer to as Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems: herself: what she thinks and feels, her microsystem: her family and loved ones, her mesosystem: her smaller community, exosystem: the society she lives in, her macrosystem: the social and cultural values that define the times (in this case political conflict), and her chronosystem: which is the effect of events that occurred in her childhood on her life. The oscillation between these different spheres of influence is indicated by the pacing of the story, allowed by the first person POV, and elucidated by the socio-political context of the story. All of this works together to mobilize the foreshadowing of Becky Guo’s murder; this is especially meaningful because this event transcends all levels of Wendy’s ecological system. As an invalidated racially charged murder/hate-crime it reaches the exosystem and her macrosystem. As a murder of a girl her age in her community, it reaches her mesosystem and microsystem. Her involvement in the Guo’s protestation of the tree reaches her microsystem. Her own feeling about the murder and the integration of the murder into her schizophrenic delusions and hallucinations reaches her chronosystem. All of this is amplified by the context of the time: the divisive 2016 elections. A time in which all disenfranchised populations: people of color, the mentally ill, women, the disabled were threatened by an event that seemed entirely out of their control. (Which, in many ways, it was). Ultimately, the setting of this story defines the story’s ability to reach into the minds of reader, and ask them to employ their own flexibility to embody the experience of someone else. Thus, it successfully demands empathy. And the reader, I believe, is apt to supply it.
I found the usage of voice in the narration of this story very interesting. At some points, it seems as though the main character is talking to us, where at other times it seems like she is talking to herself. Then there is also the odd push and pull between what she says and what is actually left unsaid, which the hallucinations and voices sometimes supplement thoughts into these dialogue free spaces. I also like the inclusion of the chant/song (which to me has a ring around the rosie kind of vibe), and how it is never explicitly said that that became an actual chant/song used by children, but it was strongly inferred when the narrator talked about her nightmarish hallucinations about being hung in the tree instead of Becky and hearing the children below singing about her. I really enjoyed the aspect of breaking up lines of this sort of preface and using them as both intrusions in Wendy’s mind, but also as sort of subheadings that divide the story and give it more structure while also enhancing the plot.
The overall plot and concept of this short story was very unique, as it showed Wendy’s struggle with her visions and hallucinations as she (and a fair amount of the country quite frankly) were beginning and continuing to become more and more stressed at the thought of a certain man as president. As the story progresses, the voices grow stronger and stronger, moving from being written in italics to being written as normal dialogue in quotation marks, and then finally coming to a head in the last sentence of the story where it simply says “suddenly, and too loudly, a girl calls my name” (300).
What a Terrible Thing it Was by Esme Weijun Wang is a story about a woman named Wendy going to a doctor’s appointment on election day. One aspect I was very interested in was how modern the story is. Though it is never explicitly stated in the story, it clearly takes place during the 2016 election. We are able to guess this through the context clues given in the reactions and news of the election. The story recounts real life events like the “Lock her up!” chant that happened at a Trump rally, easily recognizable events that were given heavy news coverage. I am not used to stories happening in such explicit modern day, including the politics that have started within the past four years. In my experience, most stories, even if they do take place from 2016 to the present, may make allusions to the current political climate, but will keep names anonymous and opinions neutral. Seeing Wendy’s anxiety around the election reminds me of myself during that time, my first year ever voting. It strongly brings me back to those days, especially the time right when the electoral college was underway.
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