The language that the sisters share determines their connection with each other. Considering that they share a special bond as sisters, both Cole and Birdie could understand each other that seem to be close to their heart. It was something that identified the special friendship they share between each other. Relatively, the author also wants to point out how different the sisters’ life has become especially that they are being subjected to ridicule that their family had to endure because of the interracial relationship shared by their parents; in a way, the Elemeno language was a comfort zone that the sisters’ share. This language remained important to Birdie throughout the novel because it meant her identity, her connection with the individual she hopes to grow into, [her sister].
Language serves as a distinct connection among humans. In the case of the twins, it defined the unique bond they share; it gives them comfort that out of the many different issues they have to deal with in the society, they have each other they could turn to for safety and the actual essence of belongingness. The language they used meant something more than communication, it served as the bridge that only they could pass through.
- In what ways is the tension between Sandy and Cole typical of that between any mother and daughter, and in what ways is it specific to an interracial family? Do you agree with Cole's statement: "Mum doesn't know anything about raising a black child" (p. 44)? Does Sandy treat her two daughters differently based on their appearances?
Mother-daughter tensions are very common especially among teens. Relatively, this occurs due to the difference of age range and concerns of the said individuals. Mothers may have specific demands that the daughters often have a hard time following. The lack of understanding on the part of the daughters is supposed to be complemented by the wisdom of the mothers; however, at times, conflicting values occur and the condition of disagreement between the parties involved becomes much harder to manage.
In the case of Cole and Sandy, it could be recognized that the situation is quite the same with what is commonly happening to mothers and daughters in a normal home. However, considering the situation of these characters in the novel, it could be assumed that the racial issues within the family may contribute towards enlarging the gap between Cole and Samantha. A mother, no matter how seemingly odd it may feel for the daughters as they try to examine her actions specifically do not invoke favoritism. No matter how oddly divided the siblings maybe [in this case the twins’] Sandy, their mother tried to be as impartial as possible. When it comes to dealing with the supposed [different racial appearances of her children], she mentions: “It doesn’t matter what your color is or what you’re born into, you know? It matters who you choose to call your own” (87). In a way, this passage notes how she sees her children as mere individuals who could decide on their own, therefore imposing that she did not see them according to their color but according to their own personality.
Cole may have thought of the idea that she is being treated differently because of her appearance compared to that of her sister’s. However, this could also be noted as a misconstrued reaction due to the racial pressure that was happening around them and the political division that identifies with their position in the society and even in the family.
- Cole offers her father proof that his blackness has not been blanched while Birdie's existence challenges this for him. How does he ultimately fail to be a father to his "white" child? In doing so, how does he fail his "black" child as well?
Being a black man who needed to remain as a father to two different children [although they share the same blood] serves as a challenge to Cole and Birdie’s father. First thing to note is the fact that he does not have a personal identity he could uphold especially that the society they are existing with specifically pulls down his capacity to provide or to at least be proud of who he is in front of his daughters.
It seems that whenever he is out with Birdie, people tend to judge him and assume he is molesting his child [especially that they have a hard time believing that Birdie is indeed his daughter given that he is a black man]. He then fails to be a father to Birdie because within him, he holds a grudge; a shameful identity that he does not know how to defend to the people surrounding him, and at some point, even to his daughters. This inability to determine his identity as a respectful black man hurts the way he treats and brings up Cole to be more acceptable of her race, her appearance and her family.
Although this is the case, the story narrative does not fail to impose how specifically dedicated he is to his children and making them feel as normal as possible. To this matter he says: "See, my guess is that you're the first generation of canaries to survive, a little injured, perhaps, but alive" (393) In a way, he imposes that his children are the ones to depict the realities of interracial relationships and they can choose to either survive the challenge or be defined by their racial injuries; a lesson that served a great deal to both daughters as they journey to seek their personal identities.
- Birdie writes, "While there seemed to be remnants of my mother's family everywhere-history books, PBS specials, plaques in Harvard Square-my father's family was a mystery. It was as if my father and Dot had arisen out of thin air" (100). Does her mother's white family's written history shape her identity more than her black imagined one? How does knowing or not knowing one's history contribute to one's sense of identity? Does what we learn about ourselves through oral or written histories give us a different understanding of ourselves?
History plays a great role in establishing identity and the relative way by which it serves the value of one’s being. Knowing where one comes from provides a person a sense of belongingness. On the part of Birdie’s process of finding herself or at least establishing an identity that is her own, she needed to know what it is about her mother or her father that makes her the way she is at present. In a way, she is confused as to who she really is, she notes history as one part that could actually identify her being. As the story narrates: she lives according to the"lies of [her] body and the artifacts of [her] life (381); it could be realized how confused she was as to how she would interpret the history of her mother’s background and the non-existent past of her father’s recognized family lineage.
Knowing the lineage of her family, what they did and what they are known for is specifically important for a purpose-searching individual. Due to the fact that she does not know so much about her father’s family or his history, she tends to lean quite dependently on her mother’s background. She tries to discover a lot more about her father, however to some dismay, she found out only a few information of which some are even irrelevant to her self-searching journey. It was evident that during her time of search, she knew that she needed to pick one identity that would fit herm being white or being black. She wanted to know what part of her family’s background actually connects to who she is at present and who she will likely become in the future.
- What do you make of Senna’s varied descriptions of blackness? What purpose do these images serve in the narrative?
The idea of blackness is referred by Senna as somewhat related to opposition. She uses her descriptive terms on blackness to determine the social turmoil that the members of the said race specifically experience during the time when the novel was written. These words were the most fitting points of identification that present the most crucial conditions that the black race had to face during the time. Interracial families are even at a higher stake of being confused and social ridicule. This is why blackness has often been related by Senna to a sense of continues pattern of fighting the urge to concede to what the society suggests of them.
In a way, blackness is defined as a distinct identity that keeps the said race away from being recognized as individuals who ought to be recognized with dignity. Senna used this particular presentation not to further the oppression that the black race but to help her readers identify with the pressure and emotion that comes along with the distinct condition of the said race, as being separated from everyone else in the society. This separation affecting personal lives and familial connections could be understood from Birdies’ lines saying: " You left me. You left me with Mum, knowing she was going to disappear. Why did you only take Cole? Why didn't you take me? If race is so make-believe, why did I go with Mum? You gave me to Mum 'cause I looked white. You don't think that's real? Those are the facts."(336)
- In the novel's conclusion, Birdie says to her sister: " 'They say you don't have to choose. But there are consequences if you don't.'" Cole replies: " 'Yeah, and there are consequences if you do'" (p. 408). What are the consequences of choosing and not choosing? Have Birdie and Cole chosen one part of their racial heritage over the other by the novel's conclusion?
In the conclusion of the story, Birdie, although she was white in complexion, knew that in her blood runs the blood of the black race. She continues to have identity issues while her sister Cole embraced her blackness. The division between the sisters and their parents served as a turning point of the story for the twins to hope to find an identity that would define their being and not simply where they belong to. Somehow, choosing the heritage of their family’s background that best fits them and taking on what the society suggests influenced the decision of Cole so much and keeps Birdie dwindling about her own identity.
The immediate presentation of such conflict intends to show how the situation has been aggravated by the pressures coming from the society. The arguments shared by Cole and her mother was rather internal; a common situation among mothers and daughters; but once aggravated by outside situations such as social pressure, the conflict becomes deeper and harder to manage.
- Officially, Birdie has no name. Her birth certificate "still reads 'Baby Lee,' like the gravestone of some stillborn child" (p. 19). Her sister's name, meanwhile, was originally Colette after the French novelist, but was later shortened to Cole. Discuss the significance of the sisters' names.
Colette, although she was born as the one with the black skin, was identified immediately in the story. Birdie, who was the one with the white skin was not identified as immediate as that of Colette simply because it establishes the confusion she is to feel later on. Senna’s utilization of such setup identifies well with her desire to impose direction on how the readers would view the twins. Not to put pressure on who is most loved nor favored by the parents, but to put an indicative control on how the readers would identify their personality and connection with each other.
The changing of Collette to Cole was a distinct indication of change of identity. Colette is more of a French name; practically noted as a white’s name. Being black-skinned, Cole was a more fitting name that further identifies her with the race the society subjects her too. In this case, it could be seen how Senna tries to consider how even names might be reconstructed just to make sure that each person fits the perfect identity that defines their being and the group they belong to.
- Sandy and Deck are initially drawn together (p. 34-6) by a quote by the French existentialist writer, Camus, who wrote: "Do you drink coffee at night?" What does this initial encounter tell you about their compatibility, or incompatibility? Why does their relationship eventually sour? Do you believe they were torn apart because of external pressures, or internal ones? Do you think they would have stayed together had they lived in a less racially divided city or in another country altogether? By the end of the novel, does Birdie believe that her parents really loved each other? Do you believe that they did?
The line ‘do you drink coffee at night’ suggests that these two individuals are loners, deep thinkers. Most people who drink coffee at night are noted to have deeper thoughts, having the desire to spend more time awake than sleeping, they may have been preoccupied with particular tasks in the night. If not, there are also those who are calmed by coffee in the evening; if this situation relates to them, then it could be understood that there are particular concerns that affect their emotions deeply. For two people to share such attitude, it could be realized that such condition of thinking may put their situation in jeopardy or in stable waters depending on how they manage the situation.
Perhaps, if they have lived in a less judging society, their relationship may have survived longer. They could have dealt with their differences and managed to deal with their personal concerns in a more normal way. However, with the pressures of the society coming into the picture, remaining objective on their situation, on their attitudes and their differences may have been harder to consider.
- Who do you think has a harder time during their separation, Cole or Birdie? Why?
Cole was more established than Birdie. In a way, Birdie had a harder time during the point of separation because she was to adjust to her father’s identity as the society suggests while she also searches for her own notable recognition. Cole was more determined to remain black and to live by the reputation it provides her. She was more strongly rooted to such thought of belonging to the black race. Birdie on the other hand was not much sure about her supposed identity. Trying to connect both the whiteness of her skin and the ‘blackness’ of her blood, she somehow hopes to be noted just as a person to belong to a family that is interracially connected and be considered a normal individual by the society without any marking whatsoever. This could perhaps be noted through the fact that Birdie had seen herself in the mirror of her sister as the story notes: she "saw [Cole] as the reflection that proved [her] own existence” (5).