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Memories of Childhood Summary
Story -1: The Cutting of My Long Hair First Day at School
The writer recalls that her first day in the land of apples was bitterly cold, with snow covering the surroundings. Besides, her first experience at the school, where she was admitted with other Native American boys and girls, was equally unpleasant. The noise made by the breakfast bell crashed into her ears. The clatter of shoes and the constant clash of harsh noises were pretty annoying. Zitkala longed for freedom, but it was useless to think of it.
A white woman placed them in the line of girls who were marching into the dining room. The narrator noticed that they were Native American girls, who wore closely clinging dresses and stiff shoes. The small girls wore sleeved aprons and had shingled hair. She was feeling very uncomfortable in the school dress. Besides her blanket had been taken off from her shoulders, making her feel all the more embarrassed. She found other Indian girls more immodestly dressed than her, in their tightly fitting clothes. She also saw boys come in from the opposite door. A small bell was tapped and every student pulled out a chair from under the table. The narrator also pulled out a chair and sat down. But she was surprised to find that she was the only one sitting.
Just as she began to rise, a second bell was rung. All were seated and she had to crawl back into her chair again. She heard a man at one end of the hall and he was prying. The other students sat with their heads hung over their plates.
As the narrator was glancing at the surroundings, she caught the eyes of a paleface (white) woman upon her. She wondered why the woman was looking at her so keenly. After the man ceased his mutterings, a third bell was tapped and everybody started eating with a knife and fork. Zitkala instead started crying. She probably had never eaten using knives and forks. All the new changes were too much for her to take.
The Terrible Warning
The eating-by-formula was not the end of her woes. Her friend Judewin knew some English, and she had overheard the white woman talk about cutting their long and heavy hair. The thought of having her hair cut was unacceptable to the narrator. Her mother had taught her that only skilled warriors who became prisoners in the war had their hair shingled (cut) by the enemy. In their society, short hair was worn by mourners and shingled hair by cowards.
The Narrator’s Protest
Judewin thought that the school people were strong and they will all have to allow their hair to be cut, but Zitkala was ready to put up a fight. She told her friend that she would struggle first, and not submit willingly before the oppressors.
When she got the chance to escape, she crept upstairs unnoticed. She entered a large room. It was dark, as the curtains were drawn. Zitkala crawled under the bed farthest from the door. After some time, people started searching for her. She heard Judewin call her name, but she didn’t answer.
The Cutting of Zitkala’s Hair
Finally, the women and girls who were looking for Zitkala entered the room in which she was hiding. She held her breath while the others searched the room. The next thing she remembered was being dragged out. She was resisting, kicking and scratching wildly. She was carried downstairs and tied to a chair. At last, she felt a cold scissor blade against her neck gnaw off one of her thick braids. This was the end of her resistance. She lost her spirit.
She was reminded of all the humiliations she went through since the day she parted with her mother. She was deeply sad and nobody comforted her. She missed her mother and felt like an animal driven by a herder.
Story-2: We Too Are Human Beings
The Entertaining Walk Home
This is the second part of the unit. The narrator takes us back to her childhood when she was a carefree child studying in the third class. The walk from school to home was hardly 10 minutes. But it would take her half an hour to one hour to cover the distance. The entertaining sights would tie her legs and stop her from going home.
The performing monkey, the snake charmer, the cyclist who kept pedaling for many days, the Maariyaata temple and the Pongal offering being cooked outside it were just some of the interesting sights. And then there were other things going on in the market like a political procession, puppet shows, and stunt performances. The market was full of seasonal fruits and stalls. The narrator felt spellbound by all the variety.
Encounter with Untouchability
One day, when the narrator was returning home, she saw a threshing floor set up on her street. A landlord was watching over the proceedings. The people of her caste were driving the cattle. Just then, she noticed an elder of her street. He was carrying a small packet, holding it with a string. It contained some vadai and the packet had become wet. The narrator thought to herself that the packet might come undone, but still, the elder was not touching it. The way he walked made Bama shriek with laughter. The elder crouched while handing over the packet to the landlord.
Laughter Turns to Sadness
The narrator returned home and told her elder brother Annan about the incident. She was laughing berserkly, but Annan didn’t seem to be amused. Annan told her that the elder and were considered low caste. The landlord belonged to the upper caste. The upper caste people thought that if low caste people touched them or anything that belonged to them, they or it would be ‘polluted’. That’s why the elder was carrying the packet by its string. After hearing this, the narrator didn’t want to laugh anymore. She felt infuriated and provoked. She wondered how these fellows thought so much of themselves. She felt compelled to touch the wretched vadais herself.
Annan told Bama that because they were born into a low caste community, they were never given any honour or dignity or respect. He advised her to study hard and learn all that she could because only education could help them throw off all the indignities.
These words made a deep impression on Bama. She studies hard. As Annan had urged, she stood first in her class and because of that, many people became her friends.
Memories of Childhood Questions- Answers
Short Answer Type Questions (2 Marks)
1. What was the weather like in the land of apples?
How did the narrator find her new place?
Ans. The first day of the narrator in the land of apples was a bitterly cold one. The snow still covered the ground; the trees were bare. Noise and other disturbances irritated her sensitive ears. People muttered in an unknown tongue. Her spirit struggled for peace and freedom.
2. What were the different noises that seemed to upset little Zitkala-sa?
Ans. The noise made by the breakfast bell crashed into her tears. The clatter of shoes on the bare floor and constant clashes of harsh noises were seemed to upset little Zitkala-Sa.
3. What was Zitkala-sa idea regarding short, shingled hair? (2012, 2016, 2017)
Ans. Zitkala-Sa’s mother had taught her that only skilled warriors who become prisoners in the war had their hair shingled (cut) by the enemy. In their society short hair was worn by mourners and shingled hair by cowards.
4. What did she notice about the Indian girls in the school?
Ans. The narrator was placed in a line of girls who were marching into the dining room. These were Indian girls. They were in stiff shoes and closely clinging dresses. Small girls wore sleeved aprons and shingled hair.
5. Why did Zitkala-sa feel uncomfortable in the dining room? (2014, 2015)
What made Zitkala-sa cry in the dining hall?
Ans. Zitkala-Sa was already feeling uncomfortable in her new dress when she entered the dining hall. A small bell was tapped. Thinking that they had to be seated, Zitkala pulled out a chair and sat on it. But to her surprise, everybody kept standing. A ‘paleface woman’ watched her keenly. She was getting up when the second bell rang and all were seated. Then a third bell was tapped. Everyone picked up his knife and fork and began eating and she began to cry.
6. Why was Zitkala-sa terrified when Judewin told her that her hair would be cut short?
Why did Zitkala-Sa resist the shingling of her hair?
Why was Zitkala-Sa so averse to having her hair cut?
Ans. Zitkala-sa was terrified by the thought of having her hair cut because she believed that in her community shingled hair was work by unskilled warriors who were captured by the enemy and their hair was cut. Thus it was a sign of cowardice. It was considered humiliating to have one’s hair shingled.
7. How did she hide? Did she succeed? (2013)
How did she prevent the shingling of her hair?
Why did Zitkala-Sa in tears on the first day in the land of apples? 2019
Ans. Judewin warned Zitkala-Sa that she had overheard the white women talking about cutting their long, heavy hair. Zitkala was horrified with the thought of getting her hair cut.The narrator disappeared unnoticed. She came to a large room with three white beds in it. She crawled under the bed and cuddled herself in the dark corner. From her hiding place, she peered out. She shuddered with fear. She couldn’t succeed in hiding herself for long. They stormed into the room and dragged her out and her hair was cut so she was in tears.
8. What was the terrible warning that Judewin gave Zitkala-Sa?
What did Judewin tell Zitkala-Sa? How did she react to it?
Ans. Judewin warned Zitkala-Sa that she had overheard the white women talking about cutting their long, heavy hair. Zitkala was horrified with the thought of getting her hair cut. Judewin further told her friend that they had to submit to the will of the authorities, as they were strong. Zitkala reacted strongly and said that she would not give up without struggling.
9. What did Zitkala-Sa feel when her long hair was cut?
What was Zitkala-Sa’ immediate reaction to the cutting of her hair? 2018
Ans. Zitkala-Sa was terribly shocked. She was in tears. She moaned for her mother. But no one came to comfort her. No one came to reason with her as her mother used to do. Now she felt like one of many little animals driven by a herder.
10. How was she forced to part with her long and heavy hair?
What made Zitkala-Sa lose her spirit?
Ans. Zitkala was hiding under the bed in order to avoid her hair being cut short. But she was found, dragged out from the hiding position, carried downstairs, tied to a chair and her hair cut. This cutting of her hair made him lose her spirit.
11. “I felt like sinking to the floor,” says Zitkala-Sa. When did she feel so and why?
Ans. The narrator was made to wear a new dress for school. Her shawl had been removed. She was feeling ashamed of her body-clinging dress. When she was walking to the dining hall, she felt like sinking to the floor with shame at all the unfamiliar ways of dressing.
12. Which activities of the people would Bama watch keenly in the bazaar?
What sort of shows or entertainment attracted Bama?
Ans. The bazaar, on the way home, was always buzzing with activity. The snake charmer, street plays, puppet shows, and stunt performance were a few interesting things going on there. Bama used to love all these things.
13. What were the articles in the stalls and shops that fascinated Bama on her way back from school?
Ans. Bama witnessed a variety of interesting things that fascinated her. She saw the dried fish stall, the sweet stall and the stall selling fried snacks. Then there were wild lemurs, needles being sold, clay beads and tools for cleaning out the ears on sale. She loved to watch the waiters cool the coffee and people chopping onions.
14. When did the narrator experience untouchability? 2012,2013,2015, 2017
When did Bama first come to know of the social discrimination faced by the people of her community?
Ans. When the narrator was in the third class, she hadn’t yet heard people speak only of untouchability. But the curse of untouchability did exist in society. She had already seen, felt and experienced it. There were occasions when she felt humiliated by it. She saw an important elder of her community serve vadais to a landlord without touching them. The incident was funny to her until Annan told her the horrific truth
15. Why did Bama feel terribly sad and provoked? 2014
Ans. On knowing the fact why the older carried the packet with a string, she didn’t want to laugh anymore. She felt terribly sad. She felt so provoked and angry that she wanted to touch those wretched vadais herself. She felt bad that people had to bow low and work so hard for their masters.
16. What comic incident did Bama narrate to her brother? Why he was not amused?
Describe the experience Bama had on her way back home which made her feel sad.
Ans. On her way back home, Bama saw an elder of her street carrying vadais for the landlord. The manner in which he carried the packet by holding its string, made Bama laugh. She related this comic incident to her brothers. Annan was not amused and he told Bama that the elder was behaving that way because people of their community were considered of low caste. This horrific truth made Bama sad.
17. What did Annan say about his community to the narrator? (2016, 2018)
Ans. Annan told the narrator that they belonged to a ‘low’ caste. The people of his community were not respected, honoured or given any importance. The members of their community can attain honour and dignity if they study and prosper. If they become learned, people will come to them of their own accord
18. What was the advice that Annan gave to Bama? Did she follow it?
Ans. Annan told Bama that because they were born into a community that was considered low caste, they were stripped of all honour, dignity, and respect. But if they studied hard and made progress, then they could throw away all such indignities. Yes, Bama did follow Annan’s advice. She studied hard and stood first in her class.
19. Why weren’t the narrators elder brother amused when she told him the story in all its comic detail?
Ans. The narrator’s elder brother was not amused. He told her that the man was not being funny. He belonged to a ‘low’ caste. The people of his community couldn’t touch the food packet. Therefore, he was holding it out by its string. Had he touched it, the landlord would never accept such a thing.
Long Answer Type Questions (7 Marks)
1. What activities did Bama witness on her way back home from school?
Why did Baba stroll in the marketplace instead of hurrying home? Describe the sights she enjoyed seeing there.
Ans. Bama took half an hour to one hour to cover a distance of ten minutes walks from her school to her home. This was because she liked to watch the performing monkey, the snake which the snake charmer kept in his box and the cyclist who did not get off his bike for three days and other interesting activities. The Pongal offerings being cooked in front of Maariyaata temple, the dried fish, sweets and fried snacks stall, the street lights that demonstrated changing colours–all interested her.
The hunter gypsy with his wild lemurs, people selling needles, clay beads and tools for cleaning out the ears mesmerized and bound her. The street play, puppet shows, political parties with people giving long speeches, the coffee clubs and the process of cooling the coffee, nothing escaped her notice. The various seasonal fruits and vegetables that were displayed also attracted her.
Thus, Bama would be awe-struck by all these sights.
2. The two accounts that you read above are based in two distant cultures. What is the commonality of theme found in both of them?
Ans. Oppression and exploitation of the indigenous people, the women and the weak is the harsh reality of all countries and civilizations throughout the world. In a similar vein, the struggle of these marginalized people is something we all can identify with. This is the thread of commonality running between the accounts of both Zitkala-Sa and Bama.
The only difference between them is the time gap and their vastly different cultures. Zitkala-Sa is a Native American who belongs to the late 19th century, whereas Bama is a prominent Dalit belonging to the contemporary era. Zitkala-Sa belonged to a marginalized community that was exploited to the hilt. Her identity was questioned throughout and finally taken away from her. Bama, on the other hand, is a victim of untouchability, casteism and vehement discrimination.
3. Bama’s experience is that of a victim of the caste system. What kind of discrimination did Zitkala-Sa’s experience depict? What are their responses to their respective situations?
Discuss the forms of discrimination projected in the narrations of Zitkala-Sa and Bama. 2018
Ans. Zitkala-Sa was an American Native. She was forcibly taken from her mother and an alien culture was thrust upon her against her wishes. But this was not the end of her misery. Her hair was cut. This was unacceptable to her. In her community, shingled hair was worn by cowards and short hair by those in mourning. Her experience depicts racial discrimination.
Bama belongs to a community that is considered a low caste. They were untouchables and the high caste people thought that they would be polluted if low caste people touched them. She was very sad and the thought infuriated her.
Both of them refused to be victims. Zitkala put up a fight before her hair could be shingled. Bama studied like crazy and stood first in her class. Throughout their lives, they continued to fight social discrimination.
4. ‘We Too are Human Beings’ highlights high caste-low caste discrimination in society. How do low caste people suffer on account of this? What advice is given to Bama to overcome this problem?
Ans. The low caste people have suffered miserably, and have been segregated and marginalized, besides being deprived of opportunities. They face social stigma, suffer humiliation, face prejudices and have been deprived of a decent living by the so-called ‘upper castes’ like the landlord in the story.
The advice given to Bama by her elder brother Annan to overcome this problem is to study hard and excel in her studies, as only education can uplift them and their position in society.
They can thus establish her identity and achieve what their previous generations could not. As Bama, herself says in the story. “As Annan had urged, I stood first in my class. And because of that, many people became my friends.”
5. Describe the experience Bama had on her way back home which made her feel sad. 2013
Ans: A strange scene amused Bama. A threshing floor had been set up at a corner of the street. Men were working and the landlord was watching the proceedings. An old man came from the side of the bazaar. He was carrying a food packet. He was holding it by its string without touching it. The manner of holding the packet amused Bama.
Bama narrated the whole story to her elder brother. But he was not amused. There was nothing comic about it. The landlord belonged to high caste. The old man belonged to a low caste. He couldn’t even touch the food packet. Had he done so, the food could have been polluted.
The landlord would not have accepted it. On hearing this Bama was filled with anger, dismay, and revolt. She felt like touching that packet with her own hands. She believed that all are human beings. They need not bow low to their masters. Her elder brother told her that the people of their caste had no respect and dignity. They can earn honour and dignity if they get education and knowledge. The words of her brother touched her deeply. She worked hard and stood first in the class. She proved that she was second to none.
Exam Questions From 2012-2019
2 marks questions
1. What was Zitkala-Sa’s idea regarding short, shingled hair? 2012 2016 2017
2. When did Bama experience untouchability? 2012 2013 2015 2017
3. How did Zitkala-sa try to hide from the ‘others’ in the school? Did she succeed? 2013
Why did Zitkala-Sa in tears on the first day in the land of apples? 2019
4. Why did Zitkala-Sa feel uncomfortable in the dining room? 2014 2015
5. Why did Bama feel terribly sad and provoked? 2014
6. What did Annan say about his community to the narrator? 2016 2018
7. What was Zitkala-Sa’ immediate reaction to the cutting of her hair? 2018
Long questions – 7 Marks
1. Describe the experience Bama had on her way back home which made her feel sad. 2013
2. Bama’s experience is that of a victim of the caste system. What kind of discrimination does Zitkala-Sa’s experience depict? What are their responses to their respective situations? 2017
3. Discuss the forms of discrimination projected in the narrations of Zitkala-Sa and Bama. 2018
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