Prof. Joan Canty
18 February 2014
Victims of Childhood, Character Analysis: Topic 3 The horrific experience of childhood experienced by Twyla and Roberta helped mold them into insecure and confused adult women, troubled by an abandoned and orphaned past. Twyla who was raised for a short period by her mentally disabled mother bonded with Roberta, a soon to be motherless child due to a sickness. A series of unfortunate events lead the two girls to an orphanage where they found comfort in knowing that both their mothers abandoned them giving them something in common while the other girl’s in the orphanages parents were deceased. Throughout the story Twyla and Roberta transform into different people, still troubled by their past and trying to move forward and gain some conclusive evidence as to what really occurred during their time at the orphanage.
Twyla was orphaned at eight years old, abandoned by her mother, a mother who “danced all night” (Norton 201). The memories of her mother dancing in Twyla’s mind was her way of coping with the understanding that her mother had a mental illness and was different from the other mothers. Twyla used “dancing” repeatedly throughout the story showing the effect that her mother had on her and her insecurities. “We were scared of them… but neither of us wanted to the other to know it” (Norton 202). Twyla feared the orphanage and the fact that she was an outcast and different than the other girls added to the tension. Adding to the disapproval of the other girls Twyla was faced with the reality that her mother was insane and the other kids knew it, “Twyyyyyla, baby! But I couldn’t stay mad at Mary while she was smiling and hugging me” (Norton 203-204). Twyla didn’t call her mother mom, mommy or mama, instead calling her Mary and accepting her because she knew it was her mother and she loved her.
Unlike Twyla’s mentally ill mother, Roberta’s mom was ill with a life debilitating illness. Roberta was confronted with a different situation than Twyla, her mother was going to die and she would be no different than the other girls in the orphanage, parentless by decease not abandonment. At only eight years old like Twyla, Roberta was faced with somewhat different challenges in respects to acceptance and possible home life. It is explained by Twyla that “it was something else to be stuck in a strange place with a girl from a girl from a whole other race – we looked like salt and pepper standing there” (Norton 201). The matter of race is only acknowledged by Twyla from an eight year olds view point. The discussion of race is brought up multiple times by Roberta and appears to be an underlying issue with her. Roberta ended up leaving and returning to the orphanage several times due to her mother’s illness worsening until she finally passed away.
The coping mechanisms used by both are different and similar in many ways, both needing a way to deal with a traumatic and lonely childhood. “I thought that if my dancing mother met her sick mother it might be good for her. And Roberta thought her sick mother would get a big bang out of a dancing one” (Norton 203). They were accepting each of their mother’s short comings and coping with the issues at hand hoping that each mother could accept one another. This seems somewhat unrealistic to a mature mind but from the view point of an eight year old could be nothing more than rational thinking. . “I thought I would die in that room of four beds with her” (Norton 204), Twyla distraughtly talks about the thought of Roberta leaving the orphanage. Twenty years later when Roberta is spotted by Twyla in a restaurant where Twyla worked, their methods of dealing with the past could not have been any different. Twyla is described as a modest waitress who finds beauty in something as simple as a sunrise in an old dirty restaurant, while Roberta appears to be overly confident portraying an insecure woman who finds pleasure…