Critical Analysis of Dillard’s “An American Childhood” Essay

Throughout “An American Childhood”, Dillard shares with us her childhood experiences with her dear mother. Dillard’s admiration for her mother is clearly visible through the way she explains in depth all of the memorable situations and events. Dillard explains how intelligent her mother was and how she always played mind games with her and her sister. The characteristic Dillard displays of her mother can tell the audience that Mother is as unique and spontaneous as can be. After hearing one phrase over the television “Terwilliger bunts one”, Mother would be using it for over 7 years in odd ways such as saying it to testing a microphone or writing it to test a pen if it had ink.

If anyone spoke in French around her she would reply to them with “Terwilliger bunts one”, just because she liked the way it sounded.

During a trip to Florida, she would repeat words that interested her like “portulaca” or “Tampiami Trial”. Words always excited her, she would pronounce words carefully and spell them out aloud.

She would ask Dillard as a child to spell hard words like “poinsettia” or “sherbet”, just to prove to them that they do not know it all yet. She once told Dillard that there was a deer in their hall. Dillard replied, “Really?”. “No,” replied Mother,” I just wanted to tell you something once without you saying ‘I know’”. Many of times Dillard was in line at the checkout stand with her mother at supermarkets, the cashier would ask “Save Stamps?” and mother would reply “No. I build model airplanes”. The quickness of diction and dry sense of humor makes Mother that much more unique and different from other mothers.

When Dillard’s younger sister, Molly, started to crawl, Mother bought her gowns with drawstrings. Mother would walk up behind Molly and step on the drawstrings to get a laugh out of it. Molly would crawl, crawl, and crawl while gaining no distance. Mother exercised her career with anarchism by always dragging Dillard into her gags and pranks. If Mother were to get a call from a wrong number she would hand the phone to Dillard and expect her to act as the intended person who was called. One day at a the Highland Park Zoo, Mother walked up to a couple that were holding hands, sitting on a bench. She interrupted their private time by speaking to the male and acting as an ex-girlfriend who had a baby with the guy. Mother would point to Dillard and say she was their child. Mother then walked away with Dillard in hand waiting for the reaction of the female and answer from the male. Pulling pranks on random people like that which could have such a nasty effect somehow did not bother her.

If Mother was ever bored in a situation, she would do something spontaneous to brighten it up. Dillard’s mother dearly loved to fluster people as well. If a board game, like checkers, was becoming dull or she was losing she would throw out game rules to mix it up. While her opponent was not looking she would switch up the pieces or hide them under the rug. During the card game “Rummy” she would play out of turn or call out a card she did not hold, simply to cause an uproar and watch the reaction. “She was an unstoppable force”. When Mother moved to a new house, she came marching to the Post Office’s door demanding that she keep her same address because she already had stationary printed with the old address. Dillard’s mother was also a designer for inventions and a remodeler of earlier inventions.

The corkscrew irked her the most and she claimed that the inventor of it never used it to see if it worked. Mother designed an invention called the “Lendalarm” which was a beeper that was attached to a borrowed item. It would beep after ten days and could only be turned off by the owner. Dillard’s mother was encouraged by opposition and would take any one on with passion whether it was a doctor, the mayor, or the President of the United States, she would “fly at them with a flurry of passion, as a songbird selflessly attacks a hawk”. Dillard’s mother was an incredible and extraordinary person, that expressed her sense of humor and displayed her intelligence every day.

Leave a Reply