Dorothy Allison writes in her essay Background (1994) that understanding a person well and thoroughly is based on and necessitates personal awareness of their childhood and social life. The essay was written as a memoir in order to focus on how people see others. Dorothy uses memories and analogy to share her thoughts about knowing, believing, and judging others. She employs flashback and contrast to demonstrate how context can include a variety of perspectives on an individual. She goes on to say that if it is not properly understood, it can easily breed rivalry between people from different social backgrounds. Dorothy writes her essay to a general audience and expresses her opinions about context, upbringing environment, and a social group having a fundamental role in a persons character.
In my opinion, the author gives an interesting logic to the audience. More often than not, we tend to judge people without knowing more about them. Actually, in most cases, we tend to stereotype them according to the shallow information we have about the general character of their background. We rarely pause and ask ourselves why they behave like that. We just pass judgment, which mostly is usually biased and reasoned according to our background. No time is given to them to give their side of the story; our summary judgment is usually final. Jew bastards will charge me if you break anything he cursed (70). Without any prior knowledge about them, Allisons stepfather is quick to judge them on how they love money and often steals from their clients. Our backgrounds are the main factors on how we perceive others. Normally, the poor look upon the rich as proud, self-centered, and arrogant while on the other side, the rich view the poor as lazy and not creative people. They are good for nothing. Nowadays, when people see, they see a bright student, ambitious in life and who knows the exact thing he wants to achieve in life. That is their summary judgment on me. They do not see the weakling I was growing up, the young boy who went to junior school with a torn uniform and most times without food. Food was a luxury at home where we ate when hungry and not because it was meal time. My experiences as a young person are similar to Dorothys experiences. We had never owned an air conditioner, never stayed in a motel, never eaten in a restaurant where my mother did not work (70). Poverty was the life of Dorothy when growing up. However, she is afraid of letting her lover know that part of her life. Her fear is manifested in a clear way when she quips that, I was afraid that she might see me through new eyes, hateful eyes (69). On the other hand, I am different. I believe my struggles in my formative years made me who I am today. I have narrated my story to my girlfriend, and she loves me deeply for accepting who I was and rising to be who I am now.
Dorothy further argues that in the same way words have meanings, similarly, upbringing environment and social groups provide an avenue for intimately knowing and understanding an individual. She uses her own life to support her views. She wants her audience to realize how a person is deeply connected to her upbringing environment. I burned with old shame and then stubbornly shook it off (71). Dorothy wants the audience to know how poverty causes shame. To lovers who come from different background, it is worse. The knowledge of the background of the other significant half can cause a rift in the relationship. The eyes of someone who suddenly knew how fully different we were (69), fear of love being shattered was evident in her eyes. She remembered how he looked down upon their stepfather. She further supports her claim about the different upbringing. She says, Then I saw the eyes flicker over to me and my sisters, registering contempt with which he had looked at my stepfather (71). The story is a direct comparison to her current circumstances. She fears being different. The embarrassment of being poor and the knowledge that her lover knows.
According to the author, every individual has a context. Of importance to note is that every individual is different from the other. The uniqueness define the character of a person. The most important thing is knowing about the other persons background and life before passing judgment. Adequate knowledge brings understanding and trust to both parties from the varied social class. They stop reading each others life from the other side. They close the gap between their different upbringing and forge well in understanding. Dorothys earlier life affects her current life, even if she no longer lives in poverty. Her lover should know where she comes from in order to know why she fears to be different. The essays show us that two different people with understanding can live together without mistrust. Dorothy illustrates her life through the memoir and states, Context is so little to share, and so vital (71).
Allison, Dorothy. “Context.” Connections: Guide to First-Year Writing @ Clayton State University. Ed. Mary R. Lamb. 3rd Edition. Southlake, TX: Fountainhead Press, 2013. 69-71. Print.
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