Journal for From an American Childhood by Annie Dillard
I believe that in order to properly contemplate on Annie Dillard’s primary purpose for writing this story, we should analyze, in our personal perspective, how does “humor” function within her work. And prior to this mission, I would like to confess what humor is for me. First of all, humor is oftentimes detected from irony. And for a reader to truly understand humor in a story, a sense of empathy is required. Then, naturally, we could conclude that irony creates a ground for active engagement by random readers. In other words, irony may represent the utmost fundamental aspects of human nature.
In From an American Childhood, Dillard depicts herself as a wild girl who loves adventure: I rehearsed the small world’s scheme and set challenges. However, her strategy for romance is far from straightforward: My love lasted two years and occasioned a bit of talk. Dillard was not fond of rules and traditions: I ignored the other direction toward the Catholic Church, but her thirst for a deep relationship preceded this preference: I had fallen in love……He was tough, Catholic, from an iffy neighborhood. Here, the irony reveals nothing special but a common human behavior: the clash of hope and fear of building a new relationship that may be followed by a rejection from others.
To support my point: my grandmother who raised me up as a child frequently mentioned that I was a boy who always craved for something new. Each and every time I went out, I had to walk through a new path, and in fact, the definition of “path” in my head was confined neither to a pedestrian road nor to ones made up of bricks and cement. Wherever I left my footprints or trace was my path. Hence, my grandmother considered me as a go-ahead kid. But later this image of mine proved to be wrong. She said that whenever I noticed other children who had toys that I liked but couldn’t have, rather than directly befriending those kids, I would wander around and wait until one of the kids drop his or her toy. And I would dash off to the scene, pick up the toy, make sure there is no dirt on it, and hand it back to the rightful owner with a big smile on my face, for I had at least touched the toy for a brief moment. So regardless of whether a person is an extrovert or an introvert, I think no one is completely confident in fitting into a new group of people and environment. There is always a sense of worry that accompanies our heart-beating expectations of new experiences, and Dillard deliberately develops this basic human nature throughout her story.
Dillard‘s very “first” encounter with nature occurred in Frick Park where she visited habitually despite of her father’s mild disapproval. Majority of those who lived in Frick Park was elderly people enjoying lawn bowling, so we can sort of conjure up a peaceful scene. And Dillard also recorded the harmony of nature reflected in her eyes, the sparrows, woodpeckers, squirrels, salamanders, buckeyes, and infinite extension of wild woods. Certainly, the whole place would have resembled a sanctuary! Here comes my interpretation. I trust that Dillard explored the streets and the town as if she were reading a text, paying attention to details, out of “loneliness”: I felt that my life depended on keeping it all straight- remembering where on earth I lived, that is, in relation to where I had walked. And the reason she repeatedly visited Frick Park is that the place may have calmed or consoled her mind by offering nature and serenity as companions. But her yearning for human relationship did not seem to cease: If a bum came after me I would disarm him with courtesy……he would introduce me to his fellow bums…… She was cautious of these encounters, but somehow, at the same time, she desired them, since she had positive simulations going on her mind.
Dillard wished to be belonged; she was a warm-hearted girl who cherished her bonds with those whom she held dear: What joy, what relief, eased me as I pushed open the heavy front door……I had located home, family, and the dinner table once again. Then I must ask “why did she want to be belonged?” which is a question not only for Annie Dillard but also for ourselves as well. Why do we want to be belonged? Why do we need friends and family members to keep us feel “safe”? I believe the answer is that no one wants to be “cut off”, and it is indeed through the communication with others that we are assured of our contact to the world, that we are breathing in the present, in reality. It is through meeting with the “other” that we recognize the “self”.
Dillard’s “walks”, in my opinion, is a quest of searching her identity, her position in the universe. And as she grew up from a little girl to a lady, she learned how to wonder for the beauty of nature: I was getting positively old: the hatching of wet robins in the spring moved me. Her curiosity of nature drove her for further knowledge: the visible world turned me curious to books; the books propelled me reeling back to the world. And this watershed event- observing the process of a Polyphemus moth transforming from a cocoon to a perfect moth which ended up losing its flying ability due to the experimenter’s inadequate handling- opened Annie Dillard’s eyes. She realized the power of “life”, and how precious, how special it is: I know that this particular moth, the big walking moth, could not travel more than a few more yards (the moths wings were deformed)……Nevertheless, it was crawling with what seemed wonderful vigor, as if, I thought at the time, it was still excited from being born. Afterwards, I believe that Dillard might have started to focus on herself as a “life”, a part of nature. And back to the point of being belonged, as for Dillard, nature could have been the “other” who she needed to know herself. Therefore, her motivation as a naturalist, although she wasn’t a professional, is explained; Dillard wanted to know about nature! But this didn’t mean that she loved it: I hated insects…… I never caught my stamp collection trying to crawl away……. I hated insects……Fingering insects was touching the rim of nightmare. I trust that this “searching of the self” may at times be difficult. We should encourage ourselves, nonetheless, not to escape from this trial, a task that is essential for it bestows meaning into our lives: But you have to study something. I never considered turning away from them just because I was afraid of them. And this search, this journey, may not have an end, but while traveling we will certainly be overwhelmed by nature, by God: How confidently I had overlooked all this- rocks, bugs, rain. What else was I missing? And we may cultivate a sincere gratitude the opportunity to live as an independent being.
This journal is written prior to my actual understanding of Annie Dillard, the author’s background, so I confess that this is a pure reflection solely based on my original perspectives. I acknowledge that this may not be a typical analysis of From an American Childhood, but I hope that my ideas can be novel in terms of inspiring. Thank you!!