Study Guide

Belle Prater's Boy Identity

By Ruth White

Identity

"Then Love went away to college, you know, over to Radford to learn to be a teacher like her daddy. And for the first time Belle had boyfriends of her own. She went to dances and parties and took on a bloom in her cheeks. She was almost pretty, and having the time of her life. Then along came Amos." (2.26)

With Love gone, Aunt Belle was allowed to reinvent herself. She didn't have to be Love's plainer sister anymore; she could actually be a pretty girl with men following her around.

And it occurred to me that Woodrow would never say anything like that. He did not think of me as "just a girl" any more than I thought of him as a cross-eyed boy. (3.68)

The nice thing about Gypsy and Woodrow's friendship is that they see each other for who they really are. They don't typecast each other into the roles other people assign them, like pretty girl or cross-eyed hillbilly boy.

"How grown-up you seem tonight, Gypsy," she said wistfully. "It's almost like talking to another adult."

"Really?" I said, pleased.

"Really. But now give me some little-girl sugar and get some shut-eye." (5.44-46)

Gypsy is always delighted when people recognize her for something other than her beauty and ridiculously long hair. It's nice to be told that she's smart, or grown-up, or a great pianist.

"But that's not all," I continued. "Sometimes… sometimes, Woodrow, I feel invisible. Like maybe under all this hair nobody can see me. They talk about my hair, but do they ever see what's underneath? You know what I mean?" (6.89)

Everyone else thinks it must be nice to be complimented for being pretty all the time, but Gypsy is tired of it. She wants people to see her for something other than her super long hair, to be recognized for her talents instead of her appearance.

"So one day Mama was reading out loud to me about the straitjacket, and suddenly she stopped reading and said, 'I know how he feels. I am in a straitjacket, too. That's how I feel. Squeezed to death. I can't move. I can't breathe. I have to get out of here.'" (7.60)

A part of Aunt Belle's problem was that she felt like she couldn't really be herself in the life she'd created with Uncle Everett and Woodrow. She felt suffocated and needed to get out in order to let herself be free.

"Mama cares more about my looks than I do," I said. "She's the one wants me to have this mane."

"Well, I'll tell you right now, girl, that mane, as you call it, is a sight. Everybody has something to say about your hair."

"Let's say I took a notion to cut it. Ain't it my hair? Can't I cut it if I want to?" (11.25-27)

Gypsy just hates how everyone feels like she owes them her beauty. What if she doesn't want to be the prettiest girl in town? Why would it offend everyone—especially her mother—if she decided to cut off all her hair?

"When she ran away with Everett Prater, she was feeling low… like she couldn't do any better—not that there's anything wrong with Everett. Nothing a'tall. But Belle didn't even know him. And she hadn't a clue what she was getting into, moving up in the shadow of those hills where the sun doesn't shine till noon." (13.45)

Belle ran away with Everett not because she was in love with him, but because she didn't know who she was anymore. She had hoped that by getting married and having a baby, she'd have a better sense of herself, but it only made things harder.

I was surprised and pleased. It was the first time Grandpa had ever mentioned my piano playing. And it reminded me that nobody ever bragged on me for anything except my looks. And they couldn't say enough about that. Yeah, I guess somebody might occasionally comment on the fact that I could tell a good joke, but how nice it would be to be admired, I thought, because I am interesting like Woodrow, or talented, or smart… anything but just pretty. (13.47)

It's nice getting compliments about good looks, but Gypsy is even more excited when her grandpa tells her that she's a good piano player. That's something she actually can be proud of since she's worked on it herself.

"Because… because… I don't want to be Love Ball Dotson's good little girl all the time!"

"Who do you want to be? Woodrow maybe?"

"No! Me! Just me! And nobody sees me!" (16.108-110)

Gypsy isn't even jealous of Woodrow because he gets away with stuff. She's jealous because everyone seems to see him for who he is but they all just see her as Love's pretty little daughter.

I rushed blindly out to the linen closet, fetched a sheet, and covered my mirror with it. I never wanted to see myself again. Beauty was no longer there. She had gone away.

"I am not your Beauty now!" I sneered at him. (18.43-44)

When Gypsy chops off all that beautiful hair, she's also reclaiming her own life. She doesn't have to live by her father's rules or wishes. She can do whatever she wants…

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