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Getting to Know Grace

In the chapter “Grace,” Okparanta uses perspective and dialogue to further express the depth of the narrator and Grace’s relationship. In the beginning of the chapter, the reader is wholly focused in the narrator’s head—her every day complaints, her initial confusion and curiosity about this girl with a “startling combination of youth and old age” (Okparanta 126). Their first conversations are the narrator simply recounting what Grace tells her and the reactions or memories that these encounters stir.

“She says, ‘It’s hard to know right from wrong, especially when some things feel right, and yet there are so many people telling you how wrong they are.’

I nod. Usually I’m listening to questions that don’t have to do with anything personal. Just demonstrations of intellect and scholarship. I want to hug her and tell her that one day she’ll figure it out for herself. But I’m not so sure of that, and so I don’t move” (Okparanta 129).

The first person narrative of this story automatically cues the reader in that the (unnamed) narrator is whom the story is about, and so the relevance of Grace and delving deeper into her emotional situation is not necessarily expected to be important to the story. Similarly, it would not be the most graceful read if the majority of this short story was the narrator saying, “She says… she continues…” etc. But as Grace opens up more to the narrator and as the narrator comes to admit to herself that she cares more than usual about Grace, the way their conversations are written about changes. Okparanta eases the reader into these changes slowly, first mentioning the vividness of Grace’s stories.

“And she tells me everything in so much detail that I can see their kitchen in my head and I can see her mama sitting on the short stool, her legs wrapped around the circumference of the mortar, pounding the yam with the pestle” (Okparanta 134).

At this point, the narrator (“I”) is still in the immediate story, but Grace’s speech is becoming more elaborate and the narrator is beginning to feel a greater connection to the story and Grace herself. Larger and larger chunks of dialogue are being told by Grace until she confronts her mother about marrying Nwafor. For almost an entire two pages (from the middle of 136, 137, and the middle of 138), the narrator completely leaves the story, transforming this section into a third person narrative about Grace. It is after this point that the narrator becomes fully caught up in her feelings for Grace, and with this snip-it of third person narrative, it is like the reader is getting a bit of each side of the story—the anguish and the pain on both sides.

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