In Myriam Gruba’s memoir, Mean, there is a similarity in section to another section in the memoir, The Woman Warrior, by Maxine Hong Kingston. In Gruba’s Mean, when she goes to San Francisco to visit the art exhibit of Hannah Wilke, she realizes she is dead and then starts describing how she thinks Wilke was like. She uses the word maybe while describing Wilke, she says “Maybe Wilke called this series Intra-Venus because she found Eros in dying”(Gruba 84). Later on she writes “There is Hannah ( I feel I can call her by her first name because of what she’s shown me)”(Gruba 84). She then finishes this scene talking about how she feels connected to Wilke because of her art, she feels a similarity to a ghost. She believes that Hannah Wilke is like her and “was modeling how to be me for me”(Gruba 85).
In Rankine’s The Woman Warrior, Rankine also does this comparison and starts describing how she believes her aunt’s life was like. Rankine first learns of the story from her mother of her fathers sister, a ghost, the one who “never existed.” She uses synonyms to the word maybe to demonstrate that these are her own thoughts on how she believed her aunts life was like. Rankine writes “Perhaps she had encountered him in the fields…”(Kingston 6), “She may have been unusually beloved…”(Kingston 10), and “He may have been somebody in her own household”(Kingston 11). These words and phrases demonstrate that these are not concrete facts about her aunt, these are just her thoughts and ideas about her aunt’s life based on how her life has gone and her personal experiences. She personally connects herself to this ghost, her aunt, and uses this to create a story that she can accept as how her life was.
This connection between the two books is important because they are two different memoirs that are about themselves that use someone that is dead as a way to compare and find themselves. These ghosts allow the reader to see how the authors mind works, and how the author thinks about themselves by reading what they believe these ghost’s lives were like. If we look at their descriptions of these people we can see the authors personal experiences in life through their descriptions, like when Gruba is talking about Wilkes creative process and how she came up with the name and ideas for her art she uses her personal thoughts and logic and it influences how she thinks this person she has never met was like and how she lived. Rankine also does this by basing how her aunt, who was shamed into killing herself by the villagers, lived in the Chinese society. Rankine uses what her parents taught her and her experience with Chinese culture to formulate a story.
The author’s use of personal experiences to describe ghosts allows us to see more into their life and learn more about them. It makes us have to also interpret their lives instead of them the just coming out and telling us things about them, it shows us who they are without them telling us who they are.
In Gruba’s case it shows us that she likes art and that it connects her to something. It helps her find herself and express herself. When she says that Wilkes helped show her how to be herself without ever meeting her shows that art has a strong impact in her life. She says that she feels connected and close to Wilke because of what she has seen in her art, she believes that all of Wilke’s art is teaching her a lesson.
1. How do you think an author’s personal experiences factor into how they describe ghosts?
2. What does Gruba’s ideas of what Hannah Wilke was like tell you about her?
Gruba, Myriam. Mean
Kingston, Maxine. The Woman Warrior