Term Paper: Loss of Family Is a Central Issue

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Loss of Family

Family is a central issue in many novels, and so the separation from the family or the loss of the family can also become a focus. This is the case for the novels Lives of the Saints by Nino Ricci and My Name is Seepeetza by Shirley Sterling. The main character in each novel has a strong view of family and the importance of family and suffers from separation from the family, at the same time finding salvation of a sort in self-development. For Vitto in the Rizzi novel, his salvation comes from a reading of the Lives of the Saints and his effort to become a saint himself. For the girl in the Sterling book, the act of writing in a journal is her way of asserting her selfhood and of connecting to a family she does not have.

Both novels center on young characters who react to their situation in a realistic but less mature manner. For both young people, a focus on religion and religious instruction is a central element in their lives and their thinking, not for the least reason because each is in a religious school situation. In Lives of the Saints, Vittorio Innocente is the central character, a boy with a name that is meant to be descriptive of his character. His father immigrated to Canada, supposedly to prepare the way for the rest of family to come, too. Little Vittorio observes the world from a child's perspective, which means he understands some things more than do adults and yet is so innocent that he fails to understand other things that adults would. For instance, he does not understand why the neighbors seem to disapprove of his mother, though he does suspect that it has something to do with the man she was with in the stable on the morning she was bitten by a snake. His mother's name is Cristina, and in the course of the novel it becomes evident that Cristina's independence and her rejection of superstition are why the peasants in this remote village in Italy are offended. Vittorio himself suffers because of this attitude, given that the people of the village tend to shujn him as well. The one exception is his teacher, aunt Teresa, who sympathizes with Vittorio and helps him delve into the Lives of the Saints, the book that she gives the boy. She uses the stories in the book to help the boy make sense of his own life.

The fact that the title of the book Teresa gives the boy is also the title of Ricci's novel gives the book-within-a-book a special meaning. That meaning has to be seen in the link between the saints and their elevated standing in the Church and the boy who wants to emulate their lives and create a plan for his own life. Teresa reads a number of saints' lives to Vitto, and she does so precisely because she wants him to be a good boy. To this end, she selects lives showing how the saints were self-sacrificing, passive, and good at enduring pain and suffering, suggesting that she wants Vitto to be the same and also sees a need for him to do so given his circumstances and the behavior of his mother Interestingly, though, Vitto reads the life of St. Cristina and finds someone more like his mother, someone strong, defiant, and vengeful. St. Cristina therefore has much in common with Vitto's mother, and so this saint has a special appeal for the boy. Sainthood is viewed by Teresa in one way based on the traits she emphasizes for the saints, while this particular saint suggests that something more is involved in conferring sainthood than I finding someone who is self-sacrificing and strong.

The social order of the village is dominated by religion and superstition, with little differentiation between the two. The novel covers a long period of time beginning with Vitto's childhood in the time just after World War II. His sense of family is divided, for he misses his father and has transferred all of his feelings to his mother. This is also problematic because of the way the village views his mother and so views him. Even though Aunt Teresa is sympathetic, she also views the boy as something of a challenge, a soul she wants to save before he follow the same path she believes his mother has followed, a path that has certainly helped create the antipathy the village feels toward the woman.

An incident in which Cristina is bitten by a snake while in the barn becomes a source for gossip and rumor, and the superstitious become even more inflamed when Cristina becomes pregnant, though her husband is in Canada. Teresa tries to hide this for a time, but it comes to light. Cristina further inflames the village when she refuses to do penance of even react to the way the villagers treat her. Indeed, they see her as challenging them with her pregnancy. For Vitto, the story of Saint Cristina helps explain his mother's actions in a way that makes her more heroic to him and more in keeping with the sanctification he himself seeks as he tries to follow the lives of the saints.

The thret from the community becomes more palpable as children take their anger and fear out on Vitto:

Vincenzo was about two years older than me, and taller and stronger; and in an instant he sensed the sudden lag in my resolution and moved from surprised defense to attack, throwing me off his chest and pinning me to the ground, his fist beating my head against the dirt while the other children stood round watching or urging him on. (Ricci 105)

For Cristina, this is the last straw, and she decides to move away. This leds to an even greter loss for Vitto when, after he and his mother travel to Canada, she dies giving birth to his sister, Rita. Still following the underlying meaning of the book Teresa gave him, the Lives of the Saints, Vitto takes his new role to heart and becomes the protector of his sister. The meaning of family changes for the boy when he and his sister go to live with his father on a farm in Ontario, and now the boy has to protect his sister from the anger of his father. Whenever the father, Mario sees the girl, he is reminded of his wife's infidelity. The girl grows up alienated from the family, even from her brother, for she stays away from home more and more because of the attitude of Mario. This becomes another source of loss for Vitto, and again Teresa becomes his only friend after she comes from Italy to run the household. Rita eventually leaves home entirely and is adopted by another family, and now the boy can mention neither his mother nor his sister to Mario. Throughout the novel, Vitto seeks to come to terms with his own life in the present, but in reading the Lives of the Saints, he is also looking to the past for guidance. As more and more family secrets unfold, he begins to discover that the past always impinges on the present and that the past, even his own past, helps in understanding the present. In truth, the lives of the saints were not that different from his own, for many of them had family problems, committed sins and even crimes, and then came to grips with both their failures and their faith to become better persons. This is what Vitto does as well and what he learns both from the lives of the saints and from his own life.

In the novel My Name is Seepeetza, the main character again narrates, as does Vitto, but her voice is further heard in the many entries she makes in her journal. The girl is in a residential school in Kalamak, British Columbia, and the time is the 1950s. The girl, Seepeetza, is twelve years old. The work likely has a strong autobiographical element, since the author was herself a student in a residential school. The sene of the loss of family and separation from home is strong in what the girl writes in her journal, and in this case, the separation is all the more deep-seated because it also involves a cultural separation, with the aboriginal culture the girl knew at home being quite different from what the residential school teaches and represents.

Shirley Sterling's story highlights the resilient nature of childhood and the power of the imagination in the struggle to survive; and the book's title can be seen as a defiant and proud assertion of identity.

The book is written in the form of a journal, with entries following a chronological order, though the mind of the writer shifts from present to past and back again and so links the two even more directly than was done in the Ricci novel. For… [END OF PREVIEW]

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