Analysis of Beds by Toi Derricotte
In her essay “Beds”, Toi Derricotte talks about her father and the many versions of him she saw. The man that Derricotte saw in her home as a child was someone who seemed to exude power. He was not a very loving or nurturing man but a man who seemed to use unorthodox ways to teach life lessons. From an early age, her father never showed her any type of affection. As an infant, if she would cry her father would not console her, but rather watch with anger because her “father didn’t like crying” (Derricotte 43). From an early age, Derricotte feared her father. She felt that he never truly loved her because he was always filled with anger. The simplest things would send him into a fit of rage. Derricotte recalls a memory of food and eating. She enjoys her food until her “daddy starts making her clean her plate: If she did not eat all her food in a time frame, he sought reasonably her father would either “strike her off the chair”, or “lift her midair by her hair” (44). He uses his undertaker education to intimidate Derricotte. She states that “He’d explain that he had studied hard to know where to hit me and not leave a single mark” (47). He was very proud of this, knowing that he could abuse his daughter, and not have anyone suspect made him feel more powerful. She goes on to say that her father was rarely home, and a man full of many broken promises. Her father thought she “hated him as her mother did” and he would frequently ignore her even when they were in the same place (51). Although Derricotte’s father was her abuser she still seemed to look for the good that this man might possess. The people in their community admired his work with embalming, and they always seemed to lean on him in times of loss. “My handsome charming father, the ultimate lover, the ultimate knower of the heart” (46). A completely different version of the man she knew behind closed doors. Her father had good qualities that Derricotte points out in her essay. She recalls the times where her father would make her laugh when “tickling her funny bone”, and that he was the only one who could get her to swallow pills or, sit still when she needed iodine” (52). She has a memory of her father when he: “Bathe her in tenderness” only after he had already beaten her. Maybe he knew that she was “suffering and wanted her to feel better” (57). Was her father finally realizing that he had hurt her? Through all the trauma she endured by this man she still seemed to find the qualities that strangers saw in him. Derricotte says “sometimes I thought that’s why my father beat me. Because he was afraid, he would be forgotten. And he achieved what he wanted” (57). She would never forget the man who abused her, how could she. It is hard to forget those who hurt us. But did she really know which version of her father was his true self? He showed a great deal of compassion for strangers, especially in times of grief. His daughter saw a man full of rage and unhappiness. Despite his lack of compassion towards his daughter for most of her life, at the end of the essay, he seems to be showing Derricotte a side of him that she was unfamiliar with. This leaves her confused and wondering who the man is that she calls “Daddy” (57).
I think that “Beds” was written in sections with flashbacks to show how Derricotte saw her father through the years. She shows vivid memories of her childhood and what it was like to live with her abuser. Her memories go back as early as 18 months and end with her present-day life. Presenting her memories this way helps you get to know her on a more intimate level. I felt as though I was sitting listening to her exude all these emotions she had kept in for so long. Trauma is a hard thing to grasp. It can be physical, mental or, both. In this case, Derricotte experienced very early on both physical and mental abuse. Although in her writings you can clearly see the physical abuse she endured, portraying her essay in this structure allows you to see the mental abuse she also received. Giving us little paragraphs of her memories shows us how she was trying to process the pain she was feeling at that time in her life. She takes us through how she is processing her feelings toward her father at different stages in her life. Each paragraph is like reading a journal entry into her daily life. From how her father beat her and if he used an object to how he would spend time with her and make her laugh. We can see how she can never fully understand who her father is and what makes him act the way does. How is her father so cruel most of the time but also a kind, compassionate, and funny man on occasion? She wants to believe that her father can be a good man through the small gestures that he shows her but, the cruel man that she sees more of takes over those good memories. This leaves Derricotte confused as to whom her father is. Is he really the cruel man that sees daily? Can he really be the kind and gentle man that the people in their community see? How can he be both men? Derricotte is struggling with this. You see that through the flashbacks of her life and the encounters with her father. Choosing to write her essay this way contributes to its effectiveness because it allows the reader to see a clear timeline of her life and the many sides of her father that she perceives. She wants her readers to see that you can have memories of trauma very early on in life. Though you try hard to forget the trauma it is always with you. Live each day and, be confident in the person you are. You can overcome anything.
In the essay “Black Swans”, Lauren Slater is giving the reader a look into the challenges she and many others face with a mental disorder. Slater never realized, until she was much older, that certain things she did were due to her OCD. Her diagnosis has negatively affected her for most of her life, even before she knew she had OCD. Slater gives us a memory from her childhood when she was making snow angels. She talks about how she found faults in every snow angel she made: “I start again on another angel, lowering myself, swishing and sweeping, rolling over-no. Yet another mistake, this time the symmetry in the wingspan is wrong. A compulsion comes over me. I do it again, and again” (Slater 485). At this moment you can clearly see when her OCD began yet, she was completely unaware of it until her twenties. This made everyday life challenging for her. She had trouble concentrating and staying on task. There were days where she could not even bear to get herself out of bed or eat. She was trapped in her thoughts, depressed and scared. She stopped reading her books and began to “avoid written language because of the anxiety associated with words” (487). Completely shutting herself out from the world. She did not recognize this person she was becoming and it made her afraid of simple things that she needed to function. She was losing a grip on what her life was, so she seeks professional help. She came to a point where the therapy treatments were not working and she started to see another Doctor that would later put her on Prozac. It was a new drug in her time, and it was supposed to be the medication that would treat OCD for good. When she began the medication, she was feeling ok. The obsessive thoughts were still there, but in the distance, where she was able to somewhat control her thoughts. She was finally able to “return to work, go for a jog, shower, and even go to the library” (494). Slater was doing things she never thought she would. Slater became dependent on Prozac although it never worked like it once did. It was a love-hate relationship. At the time of this writing, she still struggles to resist her obsessive thoughts. She has learned to embrace them like an old friend and has become a very successful woman.