Friday, May 10, 2013

Why I Can't Write from the Silence

Something has been irking me since my dissertation defense.  My committee accused me of silencing one of my characters, and they were right.  I did it on purpose.  Her role in the novel was to be a catalyst for later action.  She neither appears nor speaks in the entire 214 pages.  The book is about a privileged white girl in India who tries to find justice for a girl who was raped, and the problem is that the character I silenced is the Indian girl who was raped.  My committee kept circling back to one question: why didn't I tell her story? The answer I gave them still rings true: the story they were given wasn't about her.  I wanted to tell the story of the white girl in India.  Since then, I've put a lot of thought into answering that question for myself. Why don't I tell her story?  I have time now.  I'm deciding on my next project.  A lot of the background work on the character and setting is already done.  Tonight in the shower, I finally came to a conclusion (because all my good conclusions come in the shower).  Her character is silenced because I can't imagine her.  She gets raped, then shipped off to live on a friend's farm to avoid scandal.  She's happy enough at the end that she's provided for and better off than some of her siblings in the slums, but I could never see myself enough in that place to write about it.  I tried imagining a scene with her as the main character, and she wouldn't stay that compliant, complacent girl.  She morphs into a stoic hunter in a village on the Steppes, facing drought and famine and encroachment by another tribe.  She becomes a fighter.  She becomes strong.  She becomes self-sufficient.  And after being raped, she leaves her village for a better place of her own volition.  She takes her experiences, good and bad, and forges a life of adventure.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't expand on that original girl on the farm.  And I realized while washing my face, that I wouldn't want to read a story about that girl on the farm either.  I want to read about the second girl.  Silence is an unfortunate side-effect of rape (I suppose they're all unfortunate side-effects, aren't they?).  It does bother me that I chose to silence my character, but that was part of the point.  The readers are supposed to be bothered.  They're supposed to shout in support of her.  They're supposed to rise up and demand that she not be punished for actions beyond her control.  To protest for her when she wouldn't protest for herself.  My main character did.  But it doesn't change the fact that I can't make the girl on the farm the center of one of my stories in her current incarnation.  To break free of the silence I gave her, she needs to become someone else.  Which was kind of the point of the novel in the first place.  I wish I'd thought to say that in my dissertation defense. 

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