Selective Memory

In response to our two readings for Thursday’s class, Kitteredge’s Interlude and Danticat’s Westbury Court, I must address the common theme I saw in the two of them. Although these two styles and voices were wildly different they both touched upon how your memory of something is formed by your mindset and major views while it occurred. Although a changing point of view is only natural with growing old, memories are embellished with the point of view you had at the time and remain unscathed by new realizations or experiences.

Kitteredge discusses his Uncle in the context he knew him. The eccentric family failure that brought color followed by disappointment to family events. If he was looking at this character as a successful subjective adult, he would embellish the negatives (as I’m sure much of his adult family did) and reject his uncle for his unconventional and poor decisions. However having the memory created in his childhood, a time known for little judgement accompanied by embracing the weird of life, more than any other time, he saw this man as a figure to place on a pedestal, due to his unique path forging and bold character in a family of monotonous grey figures. I have had very similar experiences upon meeting people now that I have not remained in touch with from my childhood. That sassy preteen I met when I was 5 that I styled my hair after and aspired to be like didn’t go to college. I must ask myself was she as fabulous as I once carried her to be, or if I am the one that has changed my and she has remained the same, her previous character only preserved in my tainted memory.

Danticat’s Westbury Court speaks even more directly to this matter. As a child certain factual things seem highlighted, such as the show you were watching on a traumatic day (I watched a rerun of Arthur before I headed to school on September 11th, 2001) but other more central details seem blurred. Danticat can recall with a measure of clarity much of the traumatic day of the fire, the lesson that her mother spoke to her down to the direct quote, however she questions if her memory serves her correctly with the image of two boys and whether they died or not. These seem like humungous gaps in a story, but I feel they can be explained, once again, by the sensitive mind of a child experiencing something very emotion filled. First of all, assuming the gender of the children to be two boys could be the connection she made to her brothers. The fear that registered with her could have left their image as space holders as her memory became worn down by time. This is similar to not recalling their true fate. That day the fear instilled in her was that “sometimes it’s to late to say I shouldn’t have”. This, to a child, could mean the ultimate punishment, death. Maybe the mother was speaking to the extremity of that fire, but kids naturally see an ambulance and fear the worst. Even if the children returned and just moved after the fire, it would be a hard image for a child to correct in their head to go from seeing their first major incident and everyone coming out unharmed.

Selective memory is a term I’ve decided to use (although it’s coined by many others) because I feel whether it’s totally conscious or partially in our subconscious we choose to remember all things. As a child we see things in a particular manner and instead of gathering facts we observe and recording them in our brain for further thought with experience we categorize them immediately. This means that if you really dig into your past you may realize things about people you’ve met or places you’ve been that would be obvious to you now, but did not even occur to you as you formed that memory, therefore never clicking until you refocus on the details rather than the emotions of the event. I think although this is detrimental to recording factual history, it is so beneficiary to understanding one another. It gives meaning to put yourself in their shoes because their past is just a story without taking their position and biases at the time of experiencing it.

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One Response to Selective Memory

  1. Cierra,
    I really enjoyed your insight into how memory works. Children remember differently from adults, and as you said, children’s memories are not often accurate pictures of how things really happened. This is the case with adults too, but to a lesser extent because adults tend to have better judgment and are more critical/analytical. Children, on the other hand, idealize/idolize things.and take everything at face value, and therefore don’t see the good or bad in people. That is why their memories are often innocent, just like Kittredge’s memory of his Uncle Hank is of a bold, charismatic man, rather than the lazy drunkard that his family makes him to be. I also like that you brought up selective memory, because that definitely plays a role in how we perceive new experiences and remember old ones. Selective memory doesn’t seem like it would be advantageous, because it doesn’t let us remember things as how they truly happened, and kind of keeps us from acknowledging the truth. On the other hand, selective memory could also be a coping mechanism that helps us block out distressing or unpleasant memories. Why do you think people have selective memory, instead of just remembering things as they are? Is really advantageous to people, and does it truly help people emotionally bond with each other?

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