October 31st, 2012
Placing Fault: A Look at Determining Who is to Blame for Lily Moya’s Downfall in Not Either an Experimental Doll The Separate Worlds of Three South African Women
In today’s Western culture, it is hard to imagine a world without education. Adults and children alike view education as a common practice that is essential to everyday life. For Lily Moya, this is not the case. In Not Either an Experimental Doll, edited by Shula Marks, letters of correspondence reveal a relationship between Dr. Mabel Palmer, a well-known European supporter of black education, and Lily Moya, a girl growing up in apartheid South Africa. Lily writes to Palmer requesting acceptance into a school. Due to Lily’s amusing writing style, Palmer feels a connection to her. In turn, Palmer decides to find a way to fund Lily’s education. Throughout the letters, Lily alludes to this idea that she desires a more intimate friendship with Palmer; however, Palmer continues to assertively state that the relationship Lily seeks is impossible. In the end of the correspondence, Dr. Palmer releases her sponsorship from Lily’s education which means Lily can no longer attend school. For these two reasons, some critics will argue that Palmer is to blame for Lily’s mental breakdown at the end of the book. These people are mistaken; Mabel Palmer’s actions are not to blame for what happens to Lily. Fault lies in the differing cultures between Lily and Palmer, and in Lily’s stubbornness, egocentrism, and her inability to follow simple instructions.
It is easy to infer that there are inevitable differences in culture between a European woman in her seventies and a fifteen-year-old African girl living in apartheid-ruled South Africa. In the introduction of the book, editor and expert in the field of South African studies Shula Marks articulates that the cultural differences between Lily and Dr. Palmer make for a difficult understanding of correspondence etiquette.
Not surprisingly, the world of the busy academic was remote from the concerns of a lonely and aspirant fifteen-year-old in Umtata. For Lily, still living in a world in which misfortune was explained in terms of individual wickedness and witchcraft, Mabel’s failure to reply could only be the result of the evil counsel of her advisers (Marks 18).
Lily has been raised in a place where academia is not prominent. To understand why Dr. Palmer didn’t reply swiftly and quickly to each of Lily’s letters, Lily would have to understand all the work Dr. Palmer’s occupation entails. Lily would have to realize that people are sometimes simply too busy to write; however, as Marks notes, Dr. Palmer’s failure to reply was likely explained to Lily in terms of “individual wickedness.” Later in the same paragraph of the introduction, Marks goes on to describe Palmer’s point of view.
For Mabel, Lily’s intense if adolescent religious experience was to appear as ‘religiosity’ and ‘self-righteous’, while she had difficulty remembering whether her ‘protegée’ was an Anglican or a Catholic, and had no idea that she was Xhosa, not Zulu (Marks 18).
Palmer is under the impression that she understands Lily’s background, but Marks exposes Palmer’s ignorance of Lily’s culture. This lack of knowledge leads to poor communication between Lily and Palmer. However, Palmer does attempt to lessen her ignorance by asking Lily to write a paper, “The Life of a Native Girl in a Native Reserve” (Marks 87). In this paper, Palmer asks Lily to detail activities, problems, and daily routines experienced by a girl living in Lily’s society. Due to this attempt, Palmer’s failure to comprehend Lily’s expectations can be forgiven. Palmer tries to understand Lily and her background, but Lily cannot communicate any information in return. In the greater scheme, neither Lily nor Palmer is to blame for cultural variances. The only thing at fault in this particular case is that the two grew up in...