Histories Many Roles Within Mean

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. 

Discussion Questions:
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?

Work Cited

Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.

10 Replies to “Histories Many Roles Within Mean”

  1. Hi Emeilya great post. I choose discussion number one. Gurba realized that everything happens for a reason and it all connected together. Sophia got raped, she got raped. Gurba was lucky she was not murdered. Sophia haunts her, because they both got raped by the same man and Gurba is still alive. “I had addressed the ghost who’d haunted me for more than a decade. I’m not glad you’re dead, but I’m glad to be alive. I told her” (174). Gurba was on Sophia’s side the whole time. Gurba got molested in class and raped. Then she went to a strip club and history repeats itself. She sees herself as the stripper and rapist. She knows how it feels both ways. Gurba even went out with her professor and he put his finger up her. “I fell into a seat. He sat beside me. He jammed his hand into my crotch” (148). In the middle of the movies. She wanted revenge on guys so she went out with her married professor and in the end she got molested again. This time she did it to herself. All because she wanted to ruin a relationship.

  2. Hey Emeilya, I really liked your insightful interpretation of history in this novel! To answer your first discussion question, I feel as though Gurba chooses to connect history in different ways in order to give people insight to the real world around them. For example, she states, “I imagined her beneath them, smashed like a cucaracha. “I think they moved them for other reasons,” I said,”(172) when speaking to her father about why the baseball bleachers were moved. The fact that her father thinks they were moved due to unwanted homeless people goes to show that society was ignoring what was really happening around them, covering up the most gruesome parts. Gurba tells this story with these connections to history to show that there is almost always a story beneath what the eye can see; you just have to look deeper.

  3. Hey Emeilya! I loved your blog post and interpretation of history in this novel. To answer your second discussion question, I think Gurba deciding to pursue a career in history is very telling in her life story. As we see throughout the novel, her own history, as well as history of others has played a huge part of shaping her into the woman that she has become. I think she notices that history has a way of repeating itself. She tells us about her similar rape experience to Sophia’s, with the same man and states “I had addressed the ghost who’d haunted me for more than a decade. I’m not glad you’re dead, but I’m glad to be alive. I told her” (174). She realizes how lucky she is to be alive considering the repeated event. Gurba choosing to major in history shows the audience that she does not always want history to be repeated, but she wants to be aware and prepared for things that may happen again.

  4. Hi Emeilya I enjoyed your post about the importance of history within this novel. I agree that history and past events are a big theme throughout and at the end of the novel Gurba connects everything and realizes how it was all connected. She states that, “A woman was sacrificed so that I might sit here, autopsying my chalupa” (174). This has to do with history because all of the past events and her experiences have led her to this moment and it is now that she can reflect on everything and see how it was all tied together. She wants to make a connection to Sophia and herself and almost thank her for being there today.

  5. Hi Emeilya, your blog post had interesting ideas about history repeating itself. To answer your second discussion question, I feel that the ironic part about Gurba pursuing a career in history is that her whole life has been haunted by past events. While writing the story, she explains during The California Report that ” for 20 years I carried around a lot of survivor guilt because I share a lot in common with the other victim that didn’t survive.” She feels guilty that Sophia was killed by the same man who raped Gurba and that past guilt has haunted her for 20 years. The ironic part about her majoring in history is that she can’t let go of past feelings and she feels stuck, unable to get out of the guilt of surviving the rape incident. With majoring in history she has to keep going back to previous events and see history repeating itself like what happened in her past.

  6. Hi Emeilya I really liked your blog post. To answer your first discussion question, I think that Gruba chooses to connect history in different ways throughout the novel to show how past experiences in her life have affected her and helped her in her future. Such as her choosing to major and pursue a career in history. At the end of the book when she states, “I had addressed the ghost who’d haunted me for more than a decade”, Gruba accepts and realizes how fortunate she was to have been alive after the past event earlier in her life. Gruba connected Sophia in many aspects of this book, making the theme of history repeating, and connecting itself common throughout this memoir.

  7. Hi Emeilya! I really enjoyed reading your blog post. You were really insightful in talking about how Gurba connects history within her memoir. I totally agree with your thought of history repeating itself. Gurba shows this many times throughout the book. I think the most noteworthy example of history repeating itself in her memoir is when Gurba is explaining how the world treats people who are considered “nice”. She shows this when she says, “Bad things happened to the saintliest ones. Villagers lit them on fire. Pirates and aristocrats raped them. Barbarians carved their breasts and noses off. It seemed that the nicer you were, especially during the Middle Ages, the meaner the world was,” (16). I love this quote because it shows how throughout history, the most vulnerable people were taken advantage of and treated horribly. Even though Gurba’s examples are from the Middle Ages, it shows how this has been happening for a long time, and will continue to.

  8. Hi Emeilya,

    I like the way you were connecting different ideas in history together throughout your blog post. When I was reading the book I did not relate as many things to history in my head and by you showing history examples it allows me to examine the book in a different way. When I was reading the book I found it very interesting that Gurba decided to major and choose a career as a history teacher especially because history class is when she first got molested. As I continued to read I began to realize that she chooses to go down this path to confront and get revenge for what happened to her. “I had addressed the ghost who’d haunted me for more than a decade. I’m not glad you’re dead, but I’m glad to be alive. I told her” (Gurba 174). This shows how Gurba has seen many perspectives throughout her life and has now come to accept who she is as a person.

  9. Hi Emeilya, I really liked your blog post because you brought up an interesting point about how Gurba shows history repeating itself. In the very beginning of the book, we are introduced to Sophia’s rape and murder story which counts as history. Gurba is so infatuated with Sophia because she wants everyone to know who she is and what happened to her. She deserves at least that recognition because the news brushes the story off as just another rape of another girl that does not really matter. She chooses to connect this kind of history because she has also experienced a sexual assault herself. It goes to show that this happens to so many people and she wants to bring awareness that it will continue to happen, so we cannot brush these occurrences off.

  10. Hey Emeilya,
    I found the quote where you discussed her employment choice on p.150 to be very interesting and crucial to your post. First, this is an exhibit of Gurba’s strong writing voice and drive to do what she wants despite her past traumas. This shows her intention and willpower overpowering what is expected of her as a reaction to trauma, which would be quitting and avoidance. It’s expected that she would avoid all things history class, but instead she embraces her passion for history and does what she wants. I appreciate that you shed light on this part of the book! Definitely ironic!

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