The Heroine of Louise Shivers' Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail
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- Length: 3497 words (10 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Sleeping Beauty's father was a king who loved his daughter dearly. Unfortunately, however, he forgot to invite one of the oldest and most powerful of the fairies to the celebration of his daughter's christening. Because of his forgetfulness, the princess was sentenced to one hundred years of sleep and inactivity. She was saved by a prince who made his way to her bedside and awakened her with a kiss of true love. Of course, they celebrated a glorious wedding and lived happily ever after. Roxy Walston, the heroine of Louise Shivers' "Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail," like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella or Snow White, lived a fairy tale existence. All of the supporting roles were accounted for: her father, Will Stanton (the king); her mean stepmother, Ruth; her grandmother, Georgeanna (the fairy godmother); her husband, Aaron (the shining knight)' and her lover, Jack, as Prince Charming. Even the evil witch is symbolized by the aura of death and foreboding of the funeral home--always preying, ready to devour the next unsuspecting victim. But unlike the princess in the fairy tale, Roxy's fairy tale ended when she was awakened from her "sleep" by Jack's kiss. The lovers had shared many a romantic, passionate kiss, but the kiss--the one which brought Roxy out of her trance--was the "spitty" one after Jack had confessed to murdering Aaron. At this moment Roxy awakened to her own self-awareness and freed herself from Jack's sensual, magic spell. Only then did she tap into the strength she never knew she had. It was that strength, at first as small as a tobacco seed, that enabled her to try to outlive her shame and move forward with her life as best she could.
For one to understand and appreciate Roxy's vulnerability and passivity, a discussion of her childhood will place in proper perspective her family relationships. Will Stanton was a big-boned man, a giant with a soft heart. One can imagine the sheer delight of his little girl as he surprised her with tangerines at Christmastime. She would slip her hand down into his big pocket and feel the white sack lining, "looking for a Saturday nickel" (Shivers 119). In Roxy's eyes, her Daddy was omniscient, a virtual god. That idolization of her male parent is not unusual. Caryl Rivers, author of "Beyond Sugar and Spice," tells us that "to many a young girl, there is something magical about her father" (50).
Roxy invested her father with magical qualities; therefore, it required little effort for Will Stanton to turn his daughter into an "eternal girl," the definition of which Linda Leonard explains in her book, "The Wounded Woman":
It can be comfortable and exciting to be... a sweet young thing, to depend on someone stronger for important decisions. [She may] shy away from life and live in an inner wishworld. . . . The eternal girl dwells in weakness and usually gains her identify from projections others have upon her. [For Example]: the beautiful princess. (38)
Because Roxy's father's life revolved around a world of men, he was unaware of her every day problems. Furthermore, he made no effort to present his world as anything but magical. Little did he realize that this world of "Daddy, the giant or Daddy, the king," would keep Roxy emotionally imprisoned in her own glass coffin, like a princess unaware of the devastating consequences:."..the father can stunt his daughter's growth, turn her into an enchanted princess or a protected darling, or leave her with nothing but fantasies or fury..." (Rivers 56).
To exacerbate this situation, when Roxy reached the tender age of six, her mother died. Her memories were those of a strong, happy mother. In interviews conducted with his child patients, Dr. David M. Moriarity gives an account of expressed feelings from children who have lost their mothers. Roxy could very well have commiserated withthem: "I don't have any feeling in my heart...I feel stone dead...empty of everything...always afraid" (73-87). This pervasive fear was that terrible feeling the child experiences, like mother's leaving the room and turning out the light. Monsters and things that go bump in the night could creep out from the shadows. Roxy associated her mother's death with an external source--a ghost. It was as if she was alone in the dark with hobgoblins, Bloody Bones and Rawhead. How genuine this fear appears as one reads Maria Nagy's account of the child's view of death: "Death is understood as final, but personified as a bogeyman, skeleton, or other culturally given symbol. Death can be escaped by running away or hiding..." (qtd. in Gordon 34). Unfortunately, there was no escape for Roxy, for the aura of death, the constant foreboding of death encircled her. Because the Stanton Funeral Home was literally "too close to home," it surrounded her like a shroud, with an abiding dread. Death itself, like a wicked crone, was always preying. Morbidly, she thinks, "One day the gravedigger will dig a grave for Daddy and someone will dig one for me" (Shivers 16). She would sit and listen intently to the stories of fantasies expressed in childhood superstitions and cultural and religious beliefs. A widespread children's song reveals this fascination with the gruesome details of mortality:
Did you ever see a hearse go by
Remember you may be next to die.
They wrap you in a big white sheet
And put you down about six feet deep
The worms crawl in and the worms crawl out,
The worms play pinochle in your snout...
Typical of the fairy tale pattern, Ruth, the stepmother, did not provide the warmth and understanding that Roxy so desperately desired. She recalls, "I just couldn't go live with Ruth. I don't know why, but she always made me feel kind of ashamed" (Shivers 15). Moreover, the household changed after Roxy's half-sister and brother, Callie and Raider, were born. She was no longer comfortable with Daddy's new family. Indeed, she felt like the step-child and step-sister whenever she visited "where Daddy's other family lived" (Shivers 29).
To compensate for the loss of her father and mother, the special person, the guiding force, in Roxy's life was her grandmother, Georgeanna. Possessing all the attributes of a fairy godmother, she was constantly whispering to Roxy, prodding her, giving her advice. Roxy declares, .".. that strong old woman stood right beside me" (Shivers 18). Even in a dream, Roxy sees Georgeanna "using a stick she always carried to make some markings on the ground" (Shivers 8). The meaning of these cryptic markings is not at first clear. What methodical planning did Georgeanna have in mind for Roxy? As Alan Dundes explains in this book, "Cinderella, A Casebook," the magic wand can symbolize a new beginning: ."..the hazel wand is the traditional symbol of re-birth, the badge of the magician's craft" (196). Bewildered as to the meaning of her dream, Roxy ponders over Georgeanna's satisfied smile. What did her grandmother's wish hold in store for her? This grandmother, this guiding force, seemed to have answers for everything. But the dark time came and enveloped roxy when Georgeanna died. The loneliness penetrated her whole being. Daddy was not there to hold and rock her. One can understand her need to be comforted. However, as the author of "Like Father, Like Daughter" reveals, the safety of a father's arms is not everlasting:
When a child is young, Daddy feels powerful, as every little girl who has ever thrilled to jumping into his arms well understands. But life is too large even for a Daddy to guarantee perpetual safety, and a daughter has to learn that no one else will ever catch her like that again.
Without the comfort of strong arms to enfold her, Roxy stood, child-like, over Georgeanna's grave, along once again. Her anchor was gone. She found herself tugged by that yearning for safety, desperately wishing to be saved. And gallantly saved she was--Aaron, the clean-faced boy, the knight in shining armor, carried Roxy home from the funeral of her grandmother. Roxy's wish for a protector is typical of a certain pattern of female behavior, as evidenced in material noted in "The Second Sex":
...the girl, since childhood...has looked to the male for fulfillment and escape; he wears the face of Perseus of St. George; he is the liberator...he holds the keys to happiness... (de Beauvoir 328)
Roxy fell into her marriage as easily as one falls into a soft, warm featherbed. She "made a nest, insulating it with the softest bits of fluff and cotton, and then...hid in it" (Dowling 7). She was safe at last and seemed to be content in ."..a world of cherry pies and bed quilts and freshly ironed summer dresses. Now I had land and flowers...feeling safe for the first time...I set about concocting the tranquil domicile..." (Dowling 6-7). However, as time passed, problems developed and life was less content for Roxy. "Aaron squeezed (her) sometimes" (Shivers 50), yet their lovemaking seemed to occur routinely--every Saturday night. As days passed, Roxy longed for excitement and spontaneity. She needed something else--"something I didn't even know how to put a name to" (Shivers 50).
That dread feeling was haunting her again. She worries: "When I'm dying, will I feel as puzzled as I do now, unstrung, unquieted..." (Shivers 16). Simone de Beauvoir tell us how a woman typically reacts to a frustrated, unhappy marriage:
Now she is married, and before her there is no other future; this is to be her whole lot on earth...Day after day the same rites will be repeated. As a girl she had nothing, but in dreams she hoped for everything. Now she has her bit of earth, and she thinks in anguish: 'Only this, forever! Forever this husband, this dwelling.' (458).
Roxy's restlessness continues as she begins to notice other men. She likes the way Neb looks, especially the way he walks. There is an air of smoothness about him. How easy it would be for her to stroke his brown hair and "start something," but she dares not. After all, she is a married woman. But, as she wonders to herself, "What will become of me?," one can almost hear a distant chorus whispering softly: "Your nature, princess, is indeed noble and true. But events fester and divinity is sick" (Euripides 419). Nonetheless, Roxy ignores the signs of trouble in her marriage and examines it as little as possible. She endures. Like Cinderella, she thinks, "Maybe things will get better." As she continues to shell butter beans and sweep the ashes from the hearth, her thoughts are "low like the dark, thick water at the bottom of the river" (Shivers 16). Roxy feels like the "mousy step-sister whose only reason for being was to keep the home fires burning" (Dowling 213). How she longed for her fairy godmother, a prince--anyone who would rescue her from her glass coffin. If only she could be carried away on fairy wings to a new life. In "The Second Sex," we are told how women anxiously await their long-anticipated rescue:
She learns that to be happy she must be loved; to be loved she must await love's coming. Woman is the Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White, she who received and submits. In song and story, the young man is seen departing adventurously in search of woman, he slays the dragon, he battles giants; she is locked in a tower, a palace, a garden, a cave; she is chained to a rock a captive, sound asleep, she waits." (de Beauvoir 291)
Roxy's wait ends when Jack Ruffin walks into her life. This red-headed, tight-lipped man has eyes with a strange cast to them. From the beginning Roxy has an odd feeling about Jack. "He was as wiry and tight as a coiled bedspring" (Shivers 9). Spellbound by this enigmatic stranger, she begins to watch him, think of him and fantasize about him, writing the sensual details in her mind. What a soul-searing love she desires, as Jack slowly, but surely begins his seduction. However, Roxy should beware! Because of his cagey glances and occasional secretive actions, one might compare Jack to a wolf in sheep's clothing:
Here we see how young children -
And particularly young ladies
Who are pretty, graceful and sweet -
Should always beware of strangers
And how, indeed, it is small wonder
If the wolf devours so many.
But when I say 'the wolf' you must understand
That all wolves are not of one ilk;
There are those with endearing ways -
Gentle, friendly, apparently kind, soft-spoken and genial,
(Who obligingly) escort young ladies to their doorsteps (or further).
But alas, these mealy-mouthed monsters
Are more to be feared than the others! (Jan 33)
Indeed, Jack was a strange man in many ways, but Roxy heeded not any inner twinges of conscience; she was compelled to be with him. As she watches Jack bathe from the basin, she knew she would "die from sickness of wanting, wanting" (Shivers 57). He catches her eyes watching him as he glides the washcloth over himself. Roxy is oblivious to the world around her. Just as the tabacco is ripe in the field, she is ready for Jack to take her, to love her. They "Lay down in the fragrant dirt of the flower bed...He put himself high up inside me as naturally as a silver shoehorn easing a silk slipper" (Shivers 58). As Prince Charming discovers his princess, the giants are unsuspecting, the dragons are asleep.
Unfortunately, as time passes, events do begin to fester--Aaron's attention is on his tobacco crop, while Roxy's existence centers around Jack. Here movements are like those of a sleepwalker. As Roxy lies across the bed quilt in a trance-like state, "the chicken was lying floured and unfried on the kitchen table" (Shivers 61). She simply goes through the motions of housework:."..her feet would light across the linoleum, moving with haste" (Shivers 61). This state of mind Roxy is experiencing is called "limerence,"1 a new word, meaning ."..the blissful state of walking on air, of obsessive and intrusive thoughts about the loved one, of acute longing for reciprocation, of aching in the chest when there is uncertainty, and of seeing the loved one as utterly wonderful" (Halpern 22). In Roxy's mind, Jack is indeed wonderful, for he has rescued her from her stagnant life' he has cut through her hedge of thorns. She begins to realize the feeling she has for Aaron is just a flicker compared to the passion she feels for Jack. Nothing else matters; she must have Jack. At times she still wonders what will become of her, but like Scarlett O'Hara, she will worry about that tomorrow, as she hurries down the dirt path to the barn. She smells the sweet, heavy aroma of curing tobacco and almost tastes it--"the syrupy musty smell like bodies making love in the heat" (Shivers 79). Jack seems to be from some other world or time as he whispers to Roxy "you, you're the...princess" (Shivers 80). In "The Way of All Women," the author defined this spell as the birth of the "Ghostly Lover":
1New word "limerence" coined by Dorothy Tennov. "Love and Limerence." Briarcliff, New York: Stein and Day, 1979.
Indeed, a girl may be in love with a man, whom, in the absence of the glamour resulting from her state of mind, she might find not even likeable or attractive. The glamour and attraction are effects produced by forces in her unconscious which have been stirred to activity through her contact with the man. She projects onto him some important element from her unconscious, and then is attracted...Here we have the birth of the Ghostly Lover...Unconscious contents have a great tendency to be projected to the outer world, where they fasten onto any convenient carrier who presents a suitable hook. When this occurs, the mantle of Prince Charming falls upon some man in the outer world and the woman falls violently under the spell of this current incarnation on the prince. (Harding 41, 53, 102)
Typical of the fairy tale pattern, Roxy's prince carries her away from her worl. "It was what I thought an oasis would be like. Wild ferns grew all around the water, and I could see violets.,.." (Shivers 100). As Jack and Roxy hold each other, she rufuses to think of anything but good thoughts. "We could have been hundreds of years back in time..." (Shivers 100). However, time does not stand still forever, because finally the truth is revealed, and Roxy realizes the dilemna she faces. She questions: Who is this stranger next to me? Where is Daddy when I need him? She begins to realize that Jack was the Prince Charming that she had dreamed of in her mind. "I'd breathed all the things I'd wanted into him and thought that that was love" (Shivers 140).
As the story nears its climax, Jack reaches for Roxy and pulls her to him. "I let his mouth come onto mine, but for the first time, I tasted the spit on his lips" (Shivers 108). At this moment, the magic spell is broken--this is the kiss that brings Roxy back to realty. She sees for the first time the person Jack truly is. She needs a royal road out, but yearnings for Daddy are futile. All the king's horses and all the kings men are even powerless against this predicament. Roxy has been living through a period of illusion; Jack has lured her away from reality and only now, through her own self-awareness, can she free herself. It is now that Roxy taps the strength she never knew she possessed. At first as small as a tobacco seed, it is growing into a new self--a new Roxy. According to Colette Dowling, there comes a "moment" when all things become possible:
A moment occurs - a 'psychological moment' - which may span weeks or even months, but which is often experienced as a particular moment in time--in which the conditions of personality creating the conflict seem to unmesh and the woman is released from the lockup that kept her immobilized. (236)
Roxy's immobilization stemmed from her "lockup"--her jail, her glass coffin--any facet of her life that kept her emotionally imprisoned as an "eternal girl." But her moment of springing free arrives; she can almost feel Georgeanna jabbing and poking her - urging her to move, to get on with her life!
Roxy realizes she needs the strength of her will, mind and heart to make it possible for her to chance and move forward. However, one last piece of unfinished business remains. In order for Roxy to truly be free, she must recover from her childhood and give up the ghosts of those phantoms which prowl her mind. The people who loved her must be redeemed. Georgeanna, her force of justice, only wished to deliver her from her enclosed existence. Daddy was just a mere man, not a god. He was just a big-boned, soft-hearted man with hands of clay. Aaron, the clean-faced boy had been weak, like a knight without his protective armor. Sadly, he never had a chance to truly joust for his princess. As Simone de Beauvoir points out the weakness in men, we see that Daddy, Aaron and Jack were just mere, mortal men: "One must not believe in Prince Charming. Men are only poor creatures...They would not seem to be dwarfs if they had not been asked to be giants" (de Beauvoir). And, as the giants and knights and Prince Charming fade away, unfortunately, there is no "Happily ever after," but, there remains a new beginning for Roxy. As these ghosts, like Bloody Bones and Rawhead, move on down the tracks, she can begin to live again. The fairy tale must come to an end, and as Roxy springs free, one can almost see Georgeanna smile a satisfied smile.
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