The damaging of Thumos
Therefore the social class that Allison is a part of are all turning on one another, which is why Allison is surrounded by negativity by not just her community, but her family as well. Allison brings up being generalized in Two or Three Things I Know for Sure, but this time it’s no longer in social class, but the incest she experienced as a young child. She makes a valid point repetitively of how she does not want to be generalized based on her sexual abuse and instead wants to create her own meaning of who she is.
She gives a bold statement on this matter by saying, “Incest is a coat of many colors, some of them not visible to the human eye, but so vibrant, so powerful, people looking at you wearing it see only the coat. ” (p. 70). Allison could not make a more accurate statement and she is able to portray how someone is completely neglected to be recognized, since it’s easier to generalize than recognize. The coat she is referring to that everyone would only see, is that of a survivor, which she states in one of her essays in Skin that she is anything, but that.
She does not want to be labeled as something she considers she is not and instead wants to be looked upon beyond her sexual abuse because that does not define who she is. She goes on to say, “I know. I am supposed to have shrunk down and died. I know. I am supposed to be deeply broken incapable of love or trust of passion. But I am not. “(pg. 70). Allison does an amazing job at perceiving what all the misconceptions would be of her and explains how these judgments are not only false, but yet again don’t define who she is. Allison cannot generate a sense of worth if her value is not recognized.
Recognition is a key attribute for not only a person to have a “healthy thumos” as Shay would describe, but also to be human. One of the ways Shay defined thumos is, “The emotions aroused by cognitive appraisal of their condition (particularly improvement or deterioration) in the world. ” (p. 157). This relates to Allison’s childhood because in order to be appraised you must be recognized, which is something she never was. Therefore her thumos was damaged at an extremely young age, which led her to this sense of worthlessness.
Being categorized was just one of the ways her thumos was damaged. Another way Shay described a thumos to be damaged is when there is a misuse in power and there is a betrayal of “what’s right”. Through Allisons work, she makes it clear that the biggest betrayal in her life was that of her mothers. Her mother was aware of the abuse Allison received from her husband, yet she never tried to stop it. For Allisons own mother to fail in protecting her and let her suffer was an act that Shay determined can severely damage a person’s thumos.
Shay described this by saying, “Betrayal of trust or a breach of “what’s right” among philoi can wreck thumos” (p. 158). Shay’s statement supports evidence that Allison’s mother’s betrayal was another act that damaged Allison’s thumos. In Shay’s book he agrees with a statement said by Professor Francis Fukuyama that, “modern democracies fail to recognize honor and the desire for recognition as part of the universal and normal makeup of humans… ” (p. 156). Therefore it is human nature for one to yearn to be recognized. Therefore if someone is not recognized, like Allison, they are being dehumanized.
This brings back the notion of generalization and how it’s a way for people to turn their heads and look the other way as though it’s not happening. In Skins, Allison states how she has always feared the ideas that people thought of her due to her sexual abuse, sexual orientation, and social class. She states that “trying always to know what I am doing and why, choosing to be known as who I am…. is as tricky as it ever was. “(p. 250). Allison makes it quite clear that trying to figure out who you truly are and ignoring the generalizations you are surrounded by is a difficult task to figure out and decipher.
This can also be explained as the struggle she faced trying to heal her damaged thumos. Through Allison’s writing, one can determine through the experiences she tells and the feelings that she has felt, she had a damaged thumos. From being categorized, eternalizing the generalizations, being betrayed by her own mother, and the incest that she has experienced, Allison’s thumos was severely damaged. Shay states that, “Restoration of thumos and the capacity of social trust happens only in community. “(p. 162). Therefore in order for Allison to restore the health of her thumos she can only do so in a community.
Through the people she met throughout her life, especially the ones she realized had experienced the same experiences as her; Allison was slowly able to restore her thumos. Through her writing of stories and of her life, Allison was able to finally reach a healthy thumos.
Works Cited Allison, Dorothy. Skin: Talking about Sex, Class and Literature. Ithaca: Firebrand, 1994. . Two or Three Things I Know for Sure. New York: Penguin, 1995. Shay, J. (2002). Odysseus in America: Combat trauma and the trials of homecoming.