In Myriam Gurba’s memoir, Mean, the idea of history comes to play throughout and is used in many different ways. From the first time someone reads this book the reader is able to understand that history is an important concept and that as they continue to read it just becomes clearer. History takes on many different roles within this memoir and they all are able to give us a better understanding of Gurba as she was growing up.
History makes its first appearance when we are told that it is a memoir, which according to the Oxford English Dictionary is “records of events or history written from personal knowledge or experience of the writer, or based on special sources of information.” So we already know that this is Myriam Gurba’s life and history, these are the events that happened to her and things that shaped her to be who she is now. We are able to see history through Gurba’s eyes and get a deeper understanding of her life.
Gurba also uses history to show a bit of irony within her life. Throughout her time in college, Gurba took at least one history class every semester. This is ironic due to the fact that Gurba had been molested in her history class and had nothing but terrible memories from history class. Gurba says “Yeah history class was where I got molested. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop taking history classes. I really loved history” (150). Even Gurba knows that this is ironic and crazy that she liked these classes considering her past experiences that are associated with history class. But by taking these classes it is as if she’s showing that you can overcome these experiences that change you and then turn them into something that you can make a better outcome from. By overcoming her molestation she was able to turn something that she loved and make it a career.
Gurba then goes on to tell us that she had graduated with a history degree and then went on to become a history teacher. I find this to be ironic as well considering her past that she has with her history teacher, Mr. Hand. Mr. Hand had known about Gurba being molested in his class but pretended that he hadn’t seen it and chose to do nothing about it. This is shown when she says “Unable to look into a girl’s eyes or soul while she was being molested, something all teachers should be prepared to confront, Mr. Hand snapped his eyes back to the worksheet he’d been grading” (30). Gurba is disappointed in Mr. Hand due to that fact that he couldn’t do something that all teachers should be able to do and that is to stop something from happening when it shouldn’t be. When she states “all teachers should be prepared to confront” she is personally calling him out for being a terrible teacher and showing that what he did should not happen with in any school. Gurba is showing that she can and will be better when she becomes a teacher and that no child should have to go through what she went through.
History is also an important part within the memoir because Gurba goes out of her was to show how history repeats itself. Sometimes in obvious ways and sometimes in more subtle, deeper ways. One time we see this is when Gurba is at a strip club in San Francisco and she says “The stripper was me and I was him. I was reenacting the history of the moment after the art museum from a different perspective” (151). The moment that she is talking about in this quote is when she was raped in an alley after she had left the art museum. She says that she is reenacting the event from a different perspective. She sees the interaction between her and the stripper as almost a parallel to the interaction between her and the man that raped her. This is a way of history repeating itself because Gurba is able to make connections between these two different interactions. She sees how it is so similar to something she had previously gone through.
Another way that history repeats itself is when it comes to how other people are seen by the public. After she was raped, Gurba chose not to testify against her attacker due to the fact that “I’d be that girl that got raped by that cholo just like the boys Mr. Osmond fucked are still referred to as the boys Mr. Osmond fucked” (140). She saw what happened to these boys and was afraid that if she was to publicly say that this had happened to her then no one would be able to look at her the same. They would only see the fact that she was raped. This can also connect to Sophia being called a transient in all of the news articles. No one ever called her by her name and this ended up belittling the incident and making her seem like she was less than human. Gurba also didn’t want that, she didn’t want to feel less than human because of what this man had done to her. By not testifying she is not giving history a chance to repeat itself, she is not allowing herself to become what others before her have.
1. Why do you think Gurba choses to connect history in different ways within her memoir?
2. When reading Mean how did you see the irony behind Gurba’s choice to major and pursue a career in history?
Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.