Beka aspires to be a politician and serve her country one day, but she must conquer school first.Beka’s inner turmoil is representative of Belize’s turmoil. Like Belize, Beka is caught between the worlds of “befo’time” and “nowadays” and is constantly evaluating the characteristics of old versus new, accepting some and discarding others. She attends political meetings with her Granny Ivy but also questions her father about his political beliefs. Seeking her own identity often causes conflicts that she describes as a “tidal waves” in her mind. She straightens her hair and insists on speaking Spanish and wearing lipstick. This prompts her father to label her a phony, which she detests more than the beatings she receives for lying. She tries to stay out of trouble at school, but when she announces her doubts about the existence of heaven and hell, Sister Virgil and Father Nunez suggest that perhaps she should not be educated in a Catholic school.Beka continues to learn and grow with each of life’s lessons but Toycie’s tragedy is the most impacting lesson of all. Toycie’s death not only strengthens her resolve to “never fall in love” but it also convinces her she must complete her education. Beka learns to channel her passion and intelligence and becomes a mature woman who can correct her mistakes. She blossoms into a self-confidant young woman who is not even afraid to slip into her Creole dialect to make a point to Sister Gabriela while her mother smiles approvingly. Beka learns that she controls her destiny and with hard work, she will not be condemned to a life like that of the Coolie prostitute, National Vellor, who tells Beka, “No mother, no father, no school. What could I do?” Toycie Qualo
Seventeen-year-old Toycie is Beka’s best friend. Toycie lives with her maternal aunt, Eila because her mother abandoned her and moved to Brooklyn when Toycie was two years old. The Qualos are extremely poor but Beka does not realize it at first because she views everything from Toycie’s eyes which “embellished everything with bright sparks of what she believed could be.” Toycie is intelligent, talented, and beautiful. She plays the guitar and is helpful and well-liked by everyone. Toycie works hard at school, realizing and appreciating that her aunt must work several jobs to pay her tuition. Her unmarried aunt has failed to give Toycie any counselling about the dangers of premarital sex, however, so lacking any positive male influence in her life, Toycie is easy prey to Emilio’s overtures. As Toycie’s relationship with Emilio intensifies and Beka decides to apply herself to her studies, the two girls drift apart. When Toycie becomes pregnant, her life is ruined. She is abandoned once again and does not even receive grace from the Sisters of Charity, who expel her from school. She loses the will to live, stops eating and eventually loses her sanity. She is killed during a hurricane when a mango tree falls on her and shatters her skull. Granny Ivy
Granny Ivy is Beka’s maternal grandmother. She lives with her son’s family and shares an attic bedroom with Beka. She loves to tell stories about how things were in Belize “befo’time” and although she thinks most things were better than they are “nowadays,” she is hopeful that “things can change future.” She is politically active in the Peoples’ Independent Party and is often at odds with her son over her support of this organization, which opposes British colonial rule. Granny Ivy is a role model forbear, often siding with Beka in arguments with her parents. She confides to Beka at the end of the novel that she, too, became pregnant out of wedlock but she didn’t “break down and die” like Toycie. She had wanted to train animals in a circus but she wound up “rocking the cradle.” Unlike Toycie, however, Granny Ivy is not a victim. She tells Beka, “It’s sad if you lost your virginity unmarried and tothe wrong man, but if you lose it, you lose it. There’s no need to degrade yourself.” Lilla...
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