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Different readers could interpret Russell Baker's Growing Up in many ways. The book gives insight into his life, from his humble childhood to his successful adulthood. By describing the events in his life, he is also paying tribute to the important women who shaped him. These women were his Mother, Grandmother, and wife. All three were vital influences on him, and made him who he is in the present day. My interpretation focuses on those women more than any other factor in Russell's life, most importantly, his mother Lucy Elizabeth.
Lucy Elizabeth was Russell's symbol of strength, a pillar of confidence. She was a fierce woman who was not afraid to speak her mind, and when she did she spoke it in an educated manner. He may have been bothered by her strict ways, but in reality she was his idol. Her strength brought Russell and his sister Doris through many hard times, and her will to succeed and be the best was instilled in him for life. There are many examples of such strength in the text of Growing Up to fill fifty pages, but I will only list what I feel are the most important ones. One of the biggest struggles Lucy Elizabeth had to endure was the fact that she conceived Russell out of wedlock.
Unlike the present day, in 1925 this was sternly looked upon, especially for schoolteachers such as herself. Her pregnancy cost her, her job and forced her into marrying an alcoholic with an overbearing mother. Lucy's life changed abruptly a few years after Russell's birth when her husband died of diabetes. She moved to the Depression stricken New Jersey to live with her brother. Her life did not improve much and times were just as tough. She lost another love by the name of Olu f, could not find much work, and lost hard-earned money through a bad business investment.
After all this peril she took Russell and Doris and moved to Baltimore. Another move equaled more stress, less money, and more struggling to get by. With what seemed to be the world against her, she made it. She remarried, bought a house, and became the success she demanded of herself. Every step of the way Russell was exposed to all the ups and downs.
His mother's life during those times shaped and influenced his own. A woman similar to his mother played a brief but important role in his life. This person was his grandmother Ida Rebecca. Ida Rebecca and his mother did not pair well mostly because they shared a certain amount of competitiveness. It was this competitiveness that showed Russell exactly what kind of woman Ida Rebecca was. She had a domineering presence that displayed a quaint form of matriarchy over all those around her, not limited to just her children.
This power humbled Russell towards adults and caused him to listen more than speak. Ida Rebecca could be considered one of his biggest benefactors. Because of this simple quality of silence she instilled in him, he was able to understand life much better. Obviously, anyone who listens more than speaks is more likely to learn more.
Although she was strong, Ida did have some loose ends. She was very superstitious. Everything had some hidden meaning to her. One example of this is she believed that if a bird flew in a house someone inhabiting that house was soon to die. His mother tried to dismiss all the omens and superstitions Ida believed, but Russell didn't know any better. Since he was young he believed just about everything he was told.
Ida's superstitions were small compared to her delusions of seeing ghosts. I feel it was those delusions that sparked Russell's imagination just enough to be interested in stories at such a young age. In turn it was this interest in reading stories that could slightly attribute to his career in journalism later on in life. Although it wasn't until many years later Russell lost his sense of humbleness, and became a man of the times.
Partially responsible for this was his later to be wife Mimi. Mimi was a woman younger than Russell, but she was much more experienced in life. She lived a tough life just as he had, but hers was much more intense. When they met some time after Russell got back from the service they began a strange courtship. Their relationship was inconsistent, and did not seem to have any chance of lasting very long. Mimi was a confusing girl who seemed to love being chased by the guy.
She had a strange need to feel like she was wanted above all other things. This lead to Russell having to wait around constantly for her, meet her needs, and have nothing else on his mind but her. He contemplated giving up on the whole relationship many times, but something inside made him pick up the phone once again. After weeks that led into months they finally became what we would call now exclusive. Russell, now knowing he had the girl of his dreams, took her to meet his mother. Mimi was the most formidable opponent yet to his mother, and she had a silent protest to Russell having anything to do with her.
She was not your average "bring home to mom" type, and Russell knew that, but she was the girl of his dreams. She brought out in him what no other person had, and that was himself. He was always quiet and boyish, but Mimi brought out the man in him. The man that wanted to defy his mother, speaks his mind, and lives the carefree life. That was the best thing that ever happened to him, in my opinion.
Russell Baker's knowledge of his childhood before writing Growing Up was sketchy and biased only on what he remembered. His research on the subject brought many things to his attention that might not have been realized by him without recounting his life and the lives of his family in writing this book. From all of this information he could finally realize who he was, and the lifelong effects these women had on him. Bibliography Russell Baker, Growing Up.
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