Study Guide

Alligator Bayou Contrasting Regions

By Donna Jo Napoli

Contrasting Regions

But this flat meadow couldn't be more different from those hillside caves; this sleepy Louisiana town couldn't be more different from busy Cefalu […]. (1.3)

Even the landscape is different between where Calo came from and where he finds himself now.

[…] and I feel like a whole new person. I was a scaredy-cat boy when they pushed me onto the ship last autumn to come here. But now I work like a man. And I'm important at work because I can speak English with the customers. (1.4)

Calo hasn't just changed where he lives—who he is has changed in the process. He seems to have grown up in a short amount of time, taking on more responsibility and seeing himself as someone who can make a valuable contribution to the family business.

I miss hearing Sicilian in the streets—jokes, arguments, announcements, everything that makes up life. Here the six of us are like mice on a raft in the middle of the sea. (1.12)

We all like to be surrounded by familiar sights and sounds—it is comforting and makes us feels safe. Calo and his family try to stick together and have familiar, traditional experiences (like going to Catholic mass and playing music after dinner), but with so few people, it isn't the same.

"You will someday. You're getting an education. You'll do whatever you want."

"Where you from, sugar, that you think a colored girl can do whatever she want, with or without a education? That Sicily, it's some other kind of world?" (4.25-26)

Perhaps Calogero really does believe that no matter Patricia's skin color, an education can bring her opportunity—and perhaps he learned this way of thinking from his country.

So that's the end of it. Squabbles in America end as fast as in Sicily. I've seen grown men roll in the dirt fighting, then lean on each other drinking whiskey the next day. (5.13)

We're all really not so different after all, just a bunch of humans having thoughts, feelings, and experiences—so even thousands of miles apart, people end up following similar patterns with each other.

We walk toward town, our uncles' songs fading in the background. It will be the usual night at home—music and dance and cigars. Pretending like they're back in Sicily, surrounded by neighbors, joking and laughing. Just the four of them. (6.43)

If this is what Sicily is like, count us in.

Sometimes I think I'll never get used to the dirt streets here. I miss the cobblestones of Cefalu. But at least the dirt lies flat tonight. (6.60)

Do you think the streets works as a metaphor for the difference between how Calo gets treated in Cefalu compared to Tallulah? In Tallulah, the streets are dirt and Calo gets treated like dirt too… but in Cefalu, the streets were clean and smooth, which is pretty much how Calo was treated as well.

Goats wander through, nibbling at our pant legs. No one pays them any mind. In Sicily, goats run free, too, but they aren't allowed in church. (7.9)

This explains Francesco's stubbornness about his goats' right to roam—and it also helps us envision what this place is like and what Sicily must have been like, too.

Nothing to look at but the river itself. I've always loved water and swimming. From the hilltop where the cathedral stands in Cefalu, you can watch the sea. The river is different from the sea. No waves, no tides. But it calms me, all the same. (8.5)

The link Calo makes between these places helps to ground him. He feels more comfortable now seeing something familiar in a place where so much is brand new.

"Look at all you," Cirone bursts out. […] "You don't get excited at a Fourth of July festival—a huge thing—but you jump with joy at some dumb saint's festa. You act like we're still back in Sicily."

"We don't forget the saints. […] And we never forget we're Sicilian." (18.30)

Even though they are living in America, the uncles are firm about continuing their family and religious traditions and values, which might be different from what Cirone wants but is still an important part of their identities.

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