Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Please check the box

Last Thursday in class we discussed the idea that people who don’t fit neatly into boxes have the ability (and perhaps even the responsibility, as Anzaldua noted), to communicate between different “boxes”; these so-called boxes could include any sorts of labels that society likes to assign like singular specific race, cultural identity, gender, even age-group. In the case of King’s piece, “Borders”, I think of the term “boxes” literally. The mother in the story refuses to choose a side, Canadian or American, as neither truly represents her heritage as a Blackfoot. The situation raises the question of how would you react when you are asked to identify your self as an “either, or”, and neither choice fully explains your history, your heritage, your identity? Do you simply “check” the box that is most similar, even if it’s not truly correct? Do you take the “other” option, if in fact it’s offered, and pencil in your identity?

In the case of “Borders”, the mother refused to assimilate to the standard rules. She refused to allow her dignity to be compromised, and took a stand against an injustice, and forced the “authorities” to recognize her cultural identity. King does a beautiful job of relating such a powerful act of defiance and dignity in such a short story; it is his humor, and the point of view he chooses to use that makes it possible. The little boy, who is the story-teller, includes asides that explain the significance of their trip to Salt Lake City, and the perception he has of the world outside of the reservation—one that he has shaped from seeing glossy brochures and hearing his sister’s stories. He includes characters in the “adventure” that may only remain for two or three lines of the stories but make a lasting impact on the tone and significance of the “stand-off”, as the mother refers to it. The boy offers Stella, the third U.S. Border Patroller to speak with the two, a piece of his sandwich, illustrating his innocence to her role in their detainment. He asks Mel for a hamburger while they are waiting, and forges a relationship with the Duty-free shop employee who so poignantly supports their “struggle” at the end of the story. He talks to one of the media about eating some of the snacks they have spread out for the crew who are covering, and possibly exploiting, the event (there seems to be a trend in where the boy’s mind is at, which is further testament to the innocence of his account, and his needs that every other human being can identify with).

The metaphorical and literal border in this story is a perfect example of what we have been talking about this semester, and King addresses a loaded and extremely significant topic with a light tone and plenty of subtle humor, that makes the piece so enjoyable.

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