(Picture Credit: Jarmoluk)
Rachel Hine, Nicole Bendetti, Dustin Wheeler, and Charlie Buckley
“Memoir” is a word that has many meanings dating back to the 1000’s. These meanings included a momento, a bibliographical notice, an essay or dissertation on a learned subject closely studied by the writer. In earlier periods, this word was originally spelled “Memoire”. Over time, memoir changed in spelling to reflect the dynamic of gender. In Old French around the year 1190, memoire was a masculine word that meant “written account or description.” By 1356, memoir was a document that would contain the facts about a case that would be judged. In 1477, this definition then changed again, referring to a document that contained instructions on a certain matter. Since then the word had then shifted back and forth from masculine to feminine.
At one point, this term referred to a record; a brief testimonial or warrant; records, and documents. Later, this would change into a memorandum, a document that was specifically used towards business or diplomacy. There are many other ways memoirs would be used for. Unlike autobiographies, which are texts that are written based on an account of a person’s life in a chronological way, memoirs allow readers to see different memories or events the author experienced in a way that was not in any certain order. During this time, this was a common genre that writers would use.
According to N. Nicholls in 1769, a work known as Gray’s Correspondence, “…a writer of memoirs is a better thing than an historian” (1843). One reason that a memoir would be “better” is because it is written by someone who has been through the events and are subjective, whereas, historians focus on the researched insights into the past. Experts of history may be considered reliable to others because of its intense research. Though because memoirs are subjective, this may reflect in others believing that it is relatable and/or more reliable.
In the memoir Mean, Myriam Gurba tells her story through a bold and humorous narrative of her life through recalling past experiences. This allows her to cultivate a different relationship toward the sexual assault and trauma that characterizes her past. She does so through humorous and sometimes gross descriptions of body parts and sex through food, which help her get through this past trauma. She introduces the readers to many characters that she has encountered many commemorable or relatable memories alongside. She opens the book with a reference to the attack of a woman by the name of Sophia Torres, who was attacked and murdered by the same man Gurba was attacked by. She references Torres throughout her whole memoir because of the significance of their connection.
Later, Gurba recounts her first experiences with the character, Macaulay, the first young man to sexually assault her. They were in the second grade together and would play a game on the playground with their peers called, “Kissy Boys versus Kissy Girls” (Gurba 23). One time, Gurba states, “Macaulay’s face careened at mine. His mouth banged into my lips, and my teeth dug into my own white flesh. This was an unsanctioned kiss, we were off the kissy clock…” (Gurba 23). In only the second grade, Gurba was kissed, giving no consent, by Macaulay. Then, Gurba talks about when her and Macaulay meet again in Mr. Hand’s history class in junior high. Macaulay began touching her inappropriately under the table and Gurba tells us, “the hand that was molesting me slid to my inner thigh and squeezed the fat. Sensing that if I yelped, I’d look like the bad guy, I obeyed the shh” (Gurba 25). As Gurba is being molested, she feels as if she were to yell for help, she’d be seen as the one who is doing the wrong. As readers, we know that she’s feeling scared and hopeless. Gurba’s memory of being assaulted has changed in her mind to where she connects body parts to food. She says, “once Macaulay began stirring, my tapioca warmed and bubbled. I didn’t want it to be cooking in public” (Gurba 26). She compares her body to tapioca, a kind of starch, thats being cooked due to Macaulay assaulting her. She does this to attempt to make light of her horrible situation. Since this is a memoir of her own experiences and recollections, Gurba, as an author, is able to use tactics like comparing horrific memories to food, as a way to cope with what happened to her. These stories belong to her and she incorporates ways that allows some light into such dark situations.
Gurba also attempts to bring in light of other situations she had encountered when she talks about her experience in junior high gym class. The P.E teacher, known as Coach, made all the kids line up to do stretches. Gurba states, “this was the most humiliating pose. Perverts looked around to see what other people looked like in this pose so they would have something to masturbate to later on” (Gurba 39). She then continues to describe another memory of when the boys in that gym class mooned the girls. She says, “their butts popped free. The humps hardly jiggled. They possessed the firmness of the newly ripened” (Gurba 40). Gurba brings in the concept of food, which is a theme in Mean, when talking about her experience of being mooned. When something is ripened, it becomes mature and/or ready. Often this is related to food, such as fruit, that are ready to be eaten. Gurba compares the boys’ butts to being newly mature and ready as in they have gone through puberty. She and her peers are rarely exposed to seeing bare butt in public, which may be why she can recall so much of this experience. Gurba also mentions, “we mulled over how white they were, the strangeness of seeing ass in public, how one had hair on it…” (Gurba 40). The girls are forced to see things they weren’t expecting and never agreed too. They’re being exposed to bare parts with no consent. Gurba is using the power of memoir in her own way, to show how it is funny and strange this encounter was.
Throughout the memoir, Gurba shares with readers her personal memories the way she recalls them. The first memory that Gurba is almost eager to get off her chest, is the haunting story of Sophia. Gurba tells readers, “he [the rapist and killer] creeps up behind the girl and swings a pipe…He reaches down his sweatpants. He fondles his penis” (Gurba 1, 2). Gurba compares his penis to corn. She continues by saying, “he strokes his corn” (Gurba 2). While describing the absolute horror of Sophia’s murder, Gurba remembers body parts as food, again. This is Gurba’s s way of engaging the readers by mixing body parts with food to make her experiences relevant and interesting. It’s a different kind of comparison but she does it to add some sort of humor and life into her story.
Along with the examples above, Gurba continues to reminisce about various past events. She uses emotions and great details to describe the events that she can recall, regardless of the situation. For example, Gurba mentions events that range from sexual assaults to childhood memories with her friends. She maneuvers strange but funny thoughts she may or may not have had in the moment but includes looking back onto them, in this text. As stated before, “Memoir” has many meaning but with its definition as records of events from personal experiences of the writer. Gurba uses her haunting of the ghost Sophia Torres, because of her unfortunate end of life whereas Gurba was spared, by the same attacker. This is very unusual compared to how other writers create memoirs. The power of memoir is through the personal accounts they give and the intense feelings toward those experiences.
Memoirs, while fairly uncommon forms of text have a unique advantage over many other styles of writing. That advantage being the ability of the author to directly transfer their own memories onto the page, exactly the way they are recalled. This allows the audience to dive into the mind of the author, and see the story from their first person perspective rather than a third person narrative. Instead of the author trying to appeal to an audience’s expectations of a normal story, memoirs force audiences to be on the same brain wave as the author, and see things through his or her eyes. This means that in order to accurately read them, audiences must understand that they are reading unadulterated and sometimes unfiltered memories of the author. Memoirs also allow the reader to interpret what the author thought and felt throughout those memories. With such an intimate connection with the author, the audience is able to understand the thoughts author and their writing style with much more ease than other forms of writing such as autobiographies, and biographies.
“Free Image on Pixabay – Photo, Photographer, Old, Photos.” Sea BottomPhotocomposition · Free Image on Pixabay, pixabay.com/en/photo-photographer-old-photos-256887/.
Gurba, Myriam. Mean. Coffee House Press, 2017.
“Memoir Definition.” Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press, 1928, libproxy.cortland.edu:2267/view/Entry/116334? redirectedFrom=memoir#eid.