People find solace through the words weaved by others during times of struggle or sadness. In this episode of This American Life Elna Baker talks to Shamyla about how the book Little Women by L. M. Alcott affected Shamyla in a truly personal way.
Shamyla’s family circumstances were anything but normal. Her mother’s sister was Shamyla’s biological mother and at the age of 12 the biological mother kidnapped Shamyla on a trip in Pakistan. Shamyla remained with her biological parents until the age of 17 and dealt with ongoing abuse and patriarchal rule. The only respite she found during this time was Little Women and she related its contents to the life she was now being forced to live.
With a father forcing her to fall in line with the patriarchal views of what a woman should be in Pakistan she recalls, “There is a part where Jo and Laurie go running, and Meg scolds her and says, when will you learn to be ladylike? And she says, I hope never. I always want to run, and I always want to romp.”. She finds the character refusing the idea of growing up and relates to how she herself wants to rebel from what is being forced upon her.
We need to relate our struggles to something and the stories of the hardships of others can be one of the most poignant ways to do this. For Shamyla, “I reread Beth’s dying a lot because there was this sense of helplessness. And I really understood that in a way that a lot of people don’t. Because I knew when something’s inevitable, and it’s going to happen, they keep saying the tide’s going out in the book.”, she knew that her biological parents were trying to marry her off and she didn’t have the ability to fight it.
Text helps us to put a problem we are facing into context. We conceptualize the fog in our own mind easier by looking at the thought out actions of characters. Shamyla does this in a very real way, “When she’s having a hard time or making a decision, she asks the question, opens the book, and whatever passage she reads, it’s her answer from the March sisters.” Elna shares.
Finding a story to lose yourself in can keep you sane in some of the hardest of times. It becomes a place you can turn to for answers, to find the words to live by. Shamyla escaped her restricted life in Pakistan and made it back to the states, but the one book she read behind closed doors still remains her rock.
Glass, Baker, Drumming, & Calhoun. (2019, November 18). The weight of words. Retrieved April 07, 2020, from https://www.thisamericanlife.org/680/the-weight-of-words
All images used are in the public domain.