In the book The Book of Unknown Americans written by Cristina Henriquez one of the main characters,Alma, battles with guilt throughout the whole story. The book portrays a story about various families and their stories about their journey to the United States for a better life. Focusing mainly on the Riveras a family of three with the mother, Alma, Father, Arturo and daughter Maribel. They went to the United States looking for a good school for their daughter who had a brain injury. Once they got there they realized it was going to be much more difficult than they had anticipated. Alma carried her guilt with her all the way to the United States in hopes that her decision to move their would help her daughter be the girl who they remembered. Most of Almas decisions were based on her built up guilt. The whole reason their family ended up in the United States was fully on Almas guilt decision.
Guilt will fog up your mind and make you make assumptions purely based on fear. She believed it was her fault that their daughter was brain damaged so she wanted to redeem herself. She expected that she could fix it all herself without anyone else’s help. Alma throughout the story overthinks about every small detail causing her unnecessary stress when she could just ask her husband, Arturo, for help. The root of all her guilt began with Maribel’s brain injury Arturo had implied that it was her fault for Maribel’s fall , that she had let go of the ladder. She thinks to herself, “Had I really let it slip? Was it my fault? Arturo said as much, hadn’t he? My fault I thought. My fault. Repeating it in my head again and again”(Henriquez 102). This event is what started Almas obsession with taking care of Maribel obsessively making sure she was okay at all times.
Alma had made the decision for her family that they were going to the United States right after Maribel’s accident. She thought that Maribel going to a special school in the United States would help her be the girl she used to be. Alma convinced Arturo to go by promising that she would take care of everything and he would not have to worry about anything (Hentiquez 107). She thought Maribel’s best bet to getting better was the special school in the U.S. When they arrived they quickly ran into someone that was bad news, a local troublemaker. The troublemaker took and instant interest to maribel, which worried Alma. At the time she thought about him alot and made sure to take extra care of Maribel. But one time she didn’t think anything would happen surely Maribel had lost track of time at her friend’s house a few doors over but as soon as Alma went to check where she was and she found that awful boy with her pushing her up against the wall.
Alma couldn’t put words to her feelings and contemplated telling her husband, but she convinced herself that she could deal with the problem. Alma says, “ I was suffocating under the weight of it, and I was furious at myself for letting him get to her…” (Henriquez 147). Her guilt is making her feel horrible and she is still blaming herself for something that she cannot control. She doesn’t ask her husband either because she believes it is her job to take care of all these things. Alma talks herself into making a guilt decision yet again, she tells herself that its a good idea to go confront the troublemaker at his house. If she had not been filled with all this guilt she may have not gone to confront him which was a very bad idea. After Alma confronts the boy he threatens her and she ends up feeling worse than she did before. She worries all day and night long in hopes the boy won’t do anything to Maribel. The guilt that she is carrying around slowly eats away at her and she worries more every day. As stated in an article, “because guilt is painful, people often find ways to soothe their feelings by making up for their actions in some way” (What Does Guilt do?).
When Maribel ends up running away with her close friend, Almas mind goes straight to the worst case scenario. She thinks it had something to do with the troublemaker boy, finally in the midst of all the commotion her feelings get the best of her and all her guilt pours out as she explains to her husband the previous events. He is initially upset that she didn’t tell him anything but realizes that since the accident Almas been blaming herself for all the events up to this one. Arturo clarifies to her that he was feeling emotional the day of Maribel’s accident and he didn’t mean to put all the blame on her (Henriquez).
Almas guild led her to many different decisions throughout the story which were not all that great or thought out. She allowed her feelings to cloud her judgement and put herself in dangerous situations. Instead of relying on family or friends to help her Alma chose to keep her feelings of guilt in so nobody knew. If she had gone to someone for help I think that her decision might not have been so bad, or she would have had some time to actually think about it thoroughly. A guilty conscience doesn’t do anybody any good.
Henríquez Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Canongate, 2019.“What Does Guilt Do?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, http://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ulterior-motives/201205/what-does-guilt-do.