The Theme of Coming of Age in the Short Stories Flood by Daniel Alarcon and My Parents Bedroom by Uwem Akpan

Last Updated: 05 Jan 2023
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Both "Flood" by Daniel Alarcón and "My Parents' Bedroom" by Uwen Akpan contain the common relatable theme of coming of age. Although this is a process everyone has to go through, Alarcón and Akpan successfully demonstrate how the symbols, setting, characters, and storyline are able to intensify this critical transition. Both the main characters, the narrator from "Flood" and Monique from "My Parents' Bedroom," go though a dramatic set of circumstances that strip them from their childhood innocence and force them to grow up sooner than necessary.

In the beginning the children's purity shields them from the dangers that surround them and the consequences they can deliver. However, once their tragic events take place, their resulting epiphanies and reactions set them apart. Both Alarcón and Akpan, through their use of literary symbols, foreshadow how these children are destined to have a traumatic transition into adulthood. By comparing the settings of the two stories and the characters that inhabit them, one can infer how their surroundings bring them both closer to adulthood.

Both authors create an interesting opening to their stories through the titles. In "Flood" the natural disaster that's briefly described in the text seems to linger throughout the story. The insertion of the flood, which would be seen almost as a baptism or enlightening factor, is what initiates the narrator's quick and traumatizing transition into adulthood. The narrator describes his first encounter with the flood as "a kind of miracle, a ribbon of gleaming water where the street should have been"(Alarcón 92).

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Although the description of this natural occurrence seems majestic, the flood leads to the suffering the community will later face and the destruction of the narrator's innocence. Unlike the author of "Flood" who uses a natural disaster as foreshadowing, Akpan uses the title of his short story, "My Parents' Bedroom," to indicate where the tragedies will occur. Monique enters her parent's room twice throughout the story, and in each moment her innocence is further stripped from her. Every major act of violence, from an attempted-rape scene of Monique to the murder of her mother, is committed in the bedroom. The violence that occurs in the bedroom is disruptive, but also invasive; any prior applied rules like "never [allowing] visitors in [the room]" are violated (Akpan 706). Both authors use the titles to indicate when and where the children will fully understand the horrors surrounding them.

"Flood" and "My Parents' Bedroom" both surround their protagonists with wars amongst their communities that speed up their process of maturation. Although both stories follow this parallel theme, the protagonists' previous views of their environments/situations differ. In "Flood," the narrator is raised in a rebellious community where local, rival gangs run the establishment. Separate neighborhoods "[fall] into the thick [fights]" as if they are sweet "[like] a carnival" (Alarcón 93). The frequency of these fights makes the narrator and his friends believe that what they are experiencing is normal, and it is so thrilling to them that it almost "[blinds them] with happiness" (Alarcón 93). Due to his naiveté, the narrator cannot fully comprehend the long-lasting effects violence can have, and therefore he becomes desensitized to cruelty.

Alarcón demonstrates his character's ignorance when the narrator's friend tells a joke referring to a pointless, brutal act that results in murder. The story makes the narrator "[feel] a smile welling up inside [him]," along with his companions who laugh beside him (Alarcón 94). The negativity that permeated in the environment of his upbringing creates his nonchalant view of violence as a normal occurrence.

Unlike the narrator in "Flood," Monique from "My Parents' Bedroom," is not raised in a violent community. Instead, Monique is confronted by a sudden and vicious ethnic separation between the Tutsis and the Hutus, rather than having experienced violence her whole life. Being a mixed child of both races, Monique is attacked in a matter of hours by both populations as they begin the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Her family's misfortune of being divided by ethnicity is never of importance to Monique; she only notices small behavioral details in the neighborhood such as "the police asking [only dark skinned individuals] for [their I.D.'s] to be sure of [their] roots," but she never links these actions to acts of racism (Akpan 705).

The people Monique once considered neighbors are suddenly, in a p of a couple of days, her enemies. The narrators are both too gullible to understand the damage their environment could inflict on them. Monique, in comparison to the character in "Flood," is partially aware of her surroundings. However, because of her innocence, she is incapable of drawing correct conclusions from them. For these children, the rivalry between groups leads to extreme violence that tears them from their childlike innocence.

Both of the narrators' naiveté stems greatly from the intellectual and age gap between themselves and the older individuals they trust the most. In “Flood”, Lucas, who is a "delinquent" (Alarcón 93) and "hates [and kills] the terrucos," (Alarcón 96) is a role model for the narrator and his group of friends. Unlike the narrator, Lucas learns that his actions have consequences. Because of his reputation of committing violent crimes, he is mistakenly sentenced to five years in prison. Eventually, when the kids are accused for a crime they may have committed, the narrator is faced with the reality that his actions can have permanent consequences. "[The speaker strains] to feel innocent" and begins to learn that violence is not an act to be glorified (Alarcón 97).

Although this abrupt and rough lesson begins to change him, he continues to cling to the fragmented integrity of his life-long-idol. The narrator later relinquishes whatever bits of innocence and ignorance he has left when the government burns down the prison because of a riot. Just before the destruction of the prison, the protagonist "[learns how to ask God for things [he] knew [he] didn't deserve" in hopes that Lucas may survive (Alarcón 99). The narrator loses all sense of hope when he watches his idol, along with other prisoners, burn. This incident permanently taints the character to the point of believing "there would be no future" for him, his friends, and his idol Lucas (Alarcon 99). The narrator reemerges with a complete understanding of true violence and the enduring consequences it can have.

For Monique, her childhood innocence is shaken by a series of violent events that occur within her home. Being in charge of the household while her parents are mysteriously away, Monique is bombarded and held at the mercy of intruders that are actually from her father's side of the family. During the break in, the trespassers trash her home, interrogate her, and beat her; one of them almost rapes her. In this scarring scene, Monique "[calls] out to [her uncle]" for help as her rapist "tears her underpants," but her uncle, whom she trusted, never comes to rescue her (Akpan 707). Instead, the dreaded neighborhood Wizard, a man of dishonesty and witchcraft, saves her and reminds her to continue "[being] strong" (Akpan 707).

Although this is a traumatic experience, Monique's innocence keeps her from understanding the abuse she encountered. It isn't until her father is pressured to slaughter her mother in front of her that Monique's innocence is shaken. In a rational, adult-like way, she attempts to cope with the murder by mentally turning back time and imagining "[her mother] sleeping and hugging [another Tutsi girl]" rather than lying dead (Akpan 715). Unlike the narrator in "Flood" who immediately views the world as a hopeless inhabitance, Monique attempts to cope with her grief by quickly reacting and escaping her household. At this moment, another mob from her mother's side of the family burns Monique's home in an attempt to get revenge on the Hutus. The burning of her home fully destroys Monique's innocence and seals her in the adult world. The two characters follow a similar path that brings them towards their transition into adulthood, the way they react to their coming of age differs greatly.

Both the narrators in "Flood" and "My Parents' Bedroom" encounter permanent consequences of the events surrounding them. Although the characters react differently to certain stages in their transition, the settings help to not only connect the similarities between the stories but to demonstrate the characters' chances of going through such a shocking experience. The protagonists both experience disturbing circumstances that are also intensified by the people they love. The narrators were also originally oblivious to their surroundings and the severity of their situations; this eventually puts them in a dangerous position that permanently changes their view of the world.

The authors, from the titles themselves, include symbols that highlight their characters coming of age. At the end of each story, the children encounter a fire that could be seen a cleansing factor. Rather than being regenerative, the fire ends up becoming the sealing factor for both the narrators; their innocence has been demolished and they have now entered the terrifying adult world. The violence that surrounds them has burned an inescapable path that speeds up their traumatic coming of age.

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The Theme of Coming of Age in the Short Stories Flood by Daniel Alarcon and My Parents Bedroom by Uwem Akpan. (2023, Jan 05). Retrieved from

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