Have you ever felt guilty? Having guilt is such an awful feeling. Especially if you feel like you’ve done something maliciously or not. People deal with things very differently from one another. Some people keep things to themselves and never tell a soul, people lie, people steal and people cheat. This is where guilt will play the part in a lot of things. It is how people handle it is how it’s different. Is feeling guilty actually a feeling or a moral issue?
In the Book of Unknown Americans, Alma Rivera the mother of a beautiful fifteen year old girl named Maribel who had an accident, is a key character. Alma and her husband Arturo are from a small town in Mexico called Patzcuaro. In the book Alma takes her daughter to go visit her husband at work. Arturo worked at a construction site making good money. While visiting, Maribel insisted on helping out her father who was on top of a structure. He told his wife not to let her up the ladder because he was afraid of her getting hurt. Alma didn’t think anything could have gone wrong. She soon found out fate had another plan. As Maribel is climbing up the ladder to help her father, Alma is down below holding the ladder for her daughter. All of a sudden she sees her daughter failing over the side. As everything happened so sudden Alma wasn’t sure of what was going on. As Maribel hits the floor she hits her head hard on the ground. As Alma and Arturo are in a panic they rush her to the hospital. While there Arturo asks Alma what had happened? Why wasn’t she holding onto the ladder? Why did she even let her go up the ladder? Confused and panicked Alma is at a loss for words. “I stared at the curve of his back and tried to remember: I’d had my hands around the ladder, and I had turned. Had I really let it slip? Was is my fault? [….] My fault, I thought. My fault. Repeating it in my head again and again” (Henriquez p. 102). After all this they find out their daughter has a form of brain damage. The only thing that the doctor’s are suggesting is that they find her a school that can accommodate Maribel. But the circumstances are not easy. The list of schools the doctor gives them, are for schools in the United States. So they decided to head to the United States, Delaware to be exact.
As the weeks went on right after Maribel’s accident Alma is overwhelmed guilt. Still not sure of what exactly happened. Now all their lives had to change because she let Maribel climb that ladder. “Discussing feelings of guilt is a very important topic in psychoanalytic literature. But only rarely guilt and feelings of guilt are being differentiated from each other. One reason may be that psychoanalysts are more interested in the psychological category of “the feeling of guilt” than in the moral category of “guilt” [….] “Guilt feelings are a psychological category, whereas guilt is an ethical judgment. As psychoanalysts, we are primarily interested in feelings of guilt and, of course, their motivating cause”(Guilt and Guilt Feelings p. 145-161). As they lived their new lives in America, Alma and her family will meet new people some good some bad. One of the bad characters Henriquez introduces is Garrett. He is a troubled kid and a bully. He takes an interest in Maribel. And when he realizes Maribel is not like other kids he’s found his new target. One afternoon Maribel wasn’t home at the time she was supposed to be. As Alma goes searching for her daughter she finds that Garrett has her daughter against the wall with her shirt up. Panicked and worried and runs right to her daughter and intervenes before anything happened. This now being the second time Alma has failed her daughter, she doesn’t know what do to. So she doesn’t tell her husband hoping everything will be ok. That night she’s sitting in the kitchen across from her husband when he notices something is not right with her. She’s too quiet, too reserved. “What’s wrong? Arturo asked. “You’re so quiet,” he said. “I was thinking” “About what?” her husband asked [….] “I was thinking about Maribel,” she said (Henriquez p. 122) In a way Alma felt she was telling him the truth, but only partially. Even though her husband notices she’s something is off with his wife he just leaves it at that. Knowing she was lying to her husband adds more to the things she’s feeling guilty of.
As weeks go on Alma still feels the guilt within and everywhere she’s looking over her shoulder for this boy Garrett that attempted to assault Maribel. Because she hasn’t said anything to her husband about the incident she hasn’t been able to enjoy the simple things or she’s always thinking everything has to do with the boy Garrett. One day near the end of January, Alma’s husband comes home earlier than expected from work. He was so angry and he rushed off to take a shower. Alma followed quickly behind, “I rested my hands on the rim of the sink, feeling the cool, smooth porcelain, and stared at myself in the mirror. For a second, fear got the best of me. What was it? Something with the boy?” “Did something happen?” she asked. Trying to conceal the anxiety in her voice. With Alma feeling so guilty any little thing has her concerned that her husband is going to find out that she had lied to him and almost let their daughter get hurt again.
Another example is when the Rivera family goes out for Mr. and Mrs. Rivera’s anniversary. They go out to a pizza place but only order water. While there just enjoying each other’s company as a family, Alma is getting an uneasy feeling that the other families around noticed her and her family just sitting there with waters and not eating. As she’s thinking this to herself again, Alma is portraying that she’s still concerned with seeing Garrett around town. She hears the front door of the pizza place open and she turns real quick to see who it could be she thinks to herself, “The boy. I don’t know why. On the walk over, I had been convinced that he was following us, and I had peered over my shoulder, thinking I’d heard the clatter of his skateboard behind us, but all I saw was Arturo giving me a quizzical look”(Henriquez p. 186) Alma is showing that now the guilt that is bottled up inside of her is ready to burst.
The author Cristina Henriquez, portrays Alma as the strong, happy mother who takes care of her family. But once the accident with her daughter happens, her character changes drastically. She feels like the accident is her fault. She thinks back at the moment this happened. Could it be? Was it her fault that her daughter has brain damage? As bad as Alma felt she continued on keeping to herself about how she was feeling. She was trying to make the best of her new life. As she continued different incidents kept happenig that caused her guilt to pile up and for her to lie. Alma has shown that her guilt was a feeling. She felt horrible about what happened to her daughter. She believes it was actually her fault. These are example on how Alma expressed the feeling of her guilt throughout the book. She showed that she lied and from that felt extreme guilt because she didn’t want her husband to think of her any different.
The Book of Unknown Americans By Cristina Henriquez
The Dialects of Guilt and Guilt Feeling
Romanian Journal of Psychoanalysis / Revue Roumain de Psychanalyse. Jan-Jun2015, Vol. 8 Issue 1, p145-161.