By Chet Yarbrough
By Jeanette Winterson
Narrated by Jeanette Winterson
“Why Be Happy When You Could be Normal?” is an autobiographical story published in 2012 by and about Jeanette Winterson, a famous, and talented English writer. It is about belonging to something greater than one self.
Winterson excuses some facts in her story by noting that there can be a chasm between truth and reality when recounting memories of one’s life; memories that are the essence of a belief in belonging to something or somewhere. Childhood memory is reality when honestly recalled in an adult’s mind. To the extent that Winterson writes to recount her truth, she reveals the pain of growing up in a dysfunctional family.
By Winterson’s account, her adoptive mother was a monster; i.e. a “mummy dearest” that lay in wait to disparage her daughter’s existence.
Her adoptive father, though present in her life, was a tool of a matriarchal prison; “a wait until your father gets home” punisher that followed orders.
Though Winterson’s life is unique to her existence, her ambivalence toward her mother is a microcosm of daughters that grow up with mothers that demand much and give little; of mothers that are self-centered and demon driven by their own beliefs; of mothers that expect their life to be an example followed by their children.
Unconditional love only exists between pets and humans; not humans and humans. This is not a cosmic exploration of childhood but it is an intimate and insightful look at an adult’s remembrance of childhood.
Winterson’s adoptive mother finds that her daughter is having a lesbian affair; she asks her why. Jeanette says because her companion makes her happy; monster mother’s response is “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal”. Winterson’s mother turns her daughter out of the house at 16.
In spite of monster mother’s cruelty, one recognizes Winterson’s ambivalence toward both her adoptive and birth mother. Winterson argues with her birth mother by saying that her adoptive mother may have been a monster, but she “was my monster”; she fed me when you abandoned me.
A truth of life that comes from this book is that hateful behavior from a parent can both hurt and help one’s growth as an independent human being. Jeanette Winterson becomes a literary success because she is driven to find value in life through reading; i.e. she is compelled to read to escape mother monster’s abuse.
Sadly, many young people do not have the courage, innate ability, or fortitude of Winterson and they succumb to the bizarre behavior of their parents. But, according to Steven Pinker, zero to a maximum of ten percent of who we are is related to how our parents raised us.
An underlying meaning one might see in Winterson’s book is that all human beings look for a sense of belonging. Winterson’s abandonment by her birth mother; her monster mother’s disparagement of sexual experimentation; and her father’s enforcement of monster mother’s rules isolate Jeanette. Jeanette’s eventual acceptance by life partners, Oxford University, and the reading public began to heal monster mother’s abusive isolation of Winterson.
Parents do make mistakes with their children but Winterson shows how mistakes can be turned into useful life experiences. The scary part of that usefulness is how much luck is involved in the process. [contact-form-7 id=”1710″ title=”Contact form 1″]