‘Memories of Childhood’ is actually a tale with two real-life stories of women named Zitkala Sa (Native American) and Bama (Tamilian Dalit).
The Cutting of My Long Hair
The story foregrounds the racial hate and atmosphere of otherness that existed toward American Indians or Native Americans in America.
The protagonist Zitkala Sa (Simmons) is a Native American and is admitted to a school, Carlisle Indian School, which has a rampant culture of hate for her people and other non-Whites.
The chapter begins with Zitkala on the first day at her new hostel. She and her friend Judewin struggle to adjust to new surroundings full of suspicious sets of eyes and alien manners. The tight-fitting dresses to the modern shoes, everything about the place made the girls uneasy.
The children were asked to gather in the dining hall for breakfast. When the two girls reached their table, they were ridiculed because they did not know the table manners of the Whites.
The teachers, missionaries and nuns, gazed at them like hawks trying to question their move. Judewin looked at one of them and whispered to Zitkala that one of the pale looking European missionaries of the hostel had decided to cut their long tresses forcibly.
Judewin was resigned to the fate but Zitkala (Simmons) was not giving up before a fight. Her mother had told her that short hair is unbecoming of a woman and only incompetent warriors, cowards and mourners cut their hair.
She escaped at the first moment and found an empty room. She hid under a bed in the dark of the room. However, her rebellion was short lived as she was caught, dragged and hauled to a new room.
She was tied to a chair and her long flowing tresses were martyred brutally. She screamed for her mother, but her gut-wrenching wails found no heart soft enough o help her.
Thereupon she kept her head down and accepted a life of mute resignation. She became one of the many animals tamed and reared by the self-proclaimed, disposer of a mission to civilize others, Europeans masters.
We Too Are Human Beings
This chapter narrated the life of a Tamilian Dalit of India named Bama. In a place where patriarchic society being a Dalit (called Untouchables before enactment of Indian Constitution) added more factors of discrimination in the life of a young girl.
Bama was a cheerful and beautiful young girl who always had questions to satisfy her burning curiosity. However, one such curious voyage led her to an ugly truth of the World, the prevalence of Untouchability and the subjugation of people based on racial and blood purity.
She saw some labourers working for their rich landlord. Little Bama noticed one of them holding the landlord’s food packet with the strings, carefully not cupping it in his hands.
She was amused and asked her elder brother, Annan, about it later. Her brother educated her about the evil practice of Untouchability and that the labourer had to hold the packet at the strings only, lest he polluted the contents of the packet.
Bama felt a surge of rage and disgust at such an evil belief and practice. She felt that her community and people must show resistance to such oppression and refuse to run trivial errands for the rich upper caste people.
Annan tells her that until their Dalit community can uplift their identity through education they will continue to be looked down upon and run roughshod over.
He encourages Bama to use the opportunities offered by education to circumvent the odds of caste discrimination and bridge the chasm of racial inequality. Through education, people can change their destiny even though they cannot do anything regarding their birth or place of birth.
Her brother’s word left a deep imprint on the mind and psyche of little Bama. She resolved to prove him right and studied vigorously. As a result, she came ahead of every other student in her class.
Her success bred more confidence in her. Her self-belief and hard work made her popular among her classmates and teachers alike.
Finally, she was able to change the course of her fortunes and write a glorious destiny, surpassing the limitations that society marked her with at her birth.
Key Thoughts: Memories of Childhood
Even if the two characters are different in terms of their origin, culture and geography they are united in their suffering, pain and discrimination. Zitkala Sa is subjected to oppression because of her skin colour whereas Bama is oppressed due to her birth or blood i.e. caste.
Both of them were subjected to mal-treated since their early years and both of them triumphed over the odds and showed great resistance in the face of mountainous adversity. Download the book.