Rivkah Writes…

November 18, 2009

“Push,” Precious, and Perseverance

Filed under: Fiction,Movie Review — rivkahwrites @ 4:47 pm

I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby for my fahver. That was in 1983. I was out of school for a year. This gonna be my second baby. My daughter got Down Sinder. She’s retarded. I had got left back in the second grade too, when I was seven, ’cause I couldn’t read (and I still peed on myself). I should be in the eleventh grade, getting ready to go into the twelf’ grade so I can gone ‘n graduate. But I’m not. I’m in the ninfe grade.

I got suspended from school ’cause I’m pregnant which I don’t think is fair. I ain’ did nothin’!*

I first read this opening paragraph of “Push,” the novel by Sapphire, about 12 years ago as an undergraduate. I was taking an Honors English class called “The Imagination of Childhood,” and the novel was part of an assigned reading list. The protagonist, Clareece Precious Jones, an obese,  black girl, pregnant by her father for the second time, does not mince words; having found her way to an alternative school and been inspired to write by her teacher, Precious tells it like it is and doesn’t let ignorance of grammar and spelling get in her way. And the horrific impact of her initial sentences, like sniper shot, gave me nowhere to hide. Like it or not, by the end of the first paragraph, I knew the grim catalogue of misery I’d be dealing with if I chose to read further:

  • Child abuse
  • Incest
  • Statutory Rape
  • Pre-teen and teen pregnancy
  • Early illiteracy and educational delays
  • Current educational deficits wrought by gross negligence
  • “Down Sinder,” or Downs Syndrome, possibly due to incest

Caught between shock, repulsion, and pity, I could have skipped the book and read an online review, checking in with more conscientious peers to see whether there was anything I had missed. But I didn’t – because by the second paragraph, I was hooked. Because Precious, who has seen precious few joys in her 16 years, mercifully buffers her readers from the worst of her trials with her matter-of-fact commentary; because she turns round and makes you laugh with some wise crack when you want to cry; because despite enduring monstrously adult hurts, she’s still a kid who doesn’t think it’s fair she’s being suspended due to her second pregnancy – after all, “I ain’ did nothin’!”

Bottom line, the combination of ignorance and knowledge, feistiness and victimization, child and woman, and the bizarre irony of situation that these qualities produce – as though Precious’ suspension from school comes anything close to the robbery of her childhood and innocence – all these elements made me want to stay with Precious, to persevere with her story, even though it was hard, just as I ached for her to persevere with her struggle, despite her many obstacles.

And “Push,” or perseverance, is what the novel is all about, something the brilliant movie version of the novel, “Precious,” by Lee Daniels brought home to me. First and foremost, Precious must push to transmute the negativity of her father’s pushing/assaulting – into the love she bears her children. She must also push to bring her children into the world, push to survive the unending misery of her daily existence, push to break through the literacy barrier, push to find hope and joy with her children, and push to transcend her anguish, as awareness gradually dawns upon her. Ultimately, Precious must push to take ownership of her name; to be valuable, lovable, cherished – to be Precious.  

From the novel “Push,” by Sapphire, Knopf, NY 1996

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