This, in my opinion, is where the book should’ve started. Everything else could’ve been explained and summarized in about 2-5 paragraphs, at most. Because this is where the story really begins. Sort of. Mostly. Ok it has a slow startup. The real story starts in…chapter 5?
Anyway, this is the chapter in which we are introduced to the school. It’s interesting for the bits of historical trivia we learn, but a lot of it feels rather rushed.
On a warm January day, Pearl and her mother disembarked at Port of Spain, Trinidad, just ten miles from Caribbean Training college. Professor Smith, the Principal, met them and helped them go through customs and drive them to the college.
I like this paragraph, because it introduces us to the exact location of the college. It also shows that Professor Smith is the sort of man who comes to help his students, something I’m sure Mrs. Lindsay and Pearl really appreciated. It shows the man’s character.
During the ride to the school, Pearl thinks about her fears. I resonate with this a lot.
What if the students didn’t accept her? What if she couldn’t earn good grades? What if the teachers didn’t like her? Doubts and questions crowded into her brain so fast they almost made her dizzy.
Pearl scolds herself for feeling this way, because God wouldn’t bring you here if those fears were in any way valid. Then we get this:
God’s given you back your health. it’s up to you to show your appreciation. It’s high time you stopped worrying so much and started depending on the Lord.
This is Pearl thinking to herself. The main problem I have with this statement is that it’s a throw away line to acknowledge that, oh yeah, Pearl was struggling with her health and now she’s not. Her health problems were a big deal in chapter 1, and then in chapter 2 they completely disappeared from the narrative. This is bad writing, and this one liner does nothing to fix it. Instead, it just brings back the glaring omission of exactly how Pearl’s health was restored. Did she finally find a decent medical doctor instead of Dr. Pepper? Did the pastor lay hands on her and pray? It’s unsatisfying to the reader to not get told this, but to get told details of the conversion that weren’t even really relevant to the story.
As far as Pearl’s worries not being valid because Jesus…. that’s bullshit. Sometimes people go to school and things don’t work out. “Because Jesus” doesn’t automatically make things better. But even if things do work out well, it’s normal to feel some anxiety when starting something new. It’s human.
The principal shows the Lindsay’s their new house.
Mrs. Lindsay had applied for work, and the school had offered her the job of telephone operator. This house contained the telephone exchange for the whole valley. Here Pearl and her mother would set up housekeeping….because the house had only one bedroom, Pearl decided to live in the girl’s dormitory. Her mother would be nearby….and Pearl could run home often.
We are told that Pearl liked the girl’s dean, Miss Austin, immediately. Yes, but will she keep liking her after she gets settled in? I mean, I never went to an Adventist University, but some of the deans at Academy were downright scary.
January is a vacation month in Caribbean schools, with the term running from March until November or December.
Not gonna lie, that was interesting. Points to the author for including it.
We are told that Pearl’s room mate is Rosalind Loo. Pearl decides she’s a really nice girl, even though she hasn’t yet met Rosalind, because her things are arranged neatly. Because orderliness=niceness, I guess.
Pearl arranges her room, thinking that she should ask her mother for some doilies to make the room look nicer. Barf.
Pearl decides to go explore the campus, and asks her mother to accompany her. Her mother, unfortunately, is busy at her job. Pearl explores the campus on her own, then decides she may as well head to the administration building to ask about work. The man working there tells her they have openings in the broom shop.
After getting hired there, Pearl goes back to her room and meets her room mate.
Rosalind was pretty, with long dark curly hair, snappy black eyes, and fair skin.
Speaking of this, do we ever get a description of Pearl? I think back in chapter 1 she is described as having long dark hair, and flipping back to that chapter, I don’t see us getting a better description.
Rosalind and Pearl go down to dinner, and Pearl is introduced to other students. We don’t get to see this, mind you, we just are told that it happened, and that Pearl feels at least one of her fears is assuaged.
She is again fearful the next morning as she heads off to her job at the broom factory. Again, she scolds herself for her anxiety, and I hate this. When starting a new job, it is normal to feel certain levels of anxiety. I like that Pearl does things in spite of her fear, but I hate that Pearl’s fears are constantly brushed aside as silly….. because Jesus. It would be better to say to onesself, “I am feeling some anxiety because this is a new experience. In all likelihood, nothing bad is going to happen. This is totally normal, and it will pass.”
If it does not pass, see a therapist.
The girls who worked in Pearl’s department helped her learn how to properly dip the broomstraw into the dye.
I wanted to highlight this, because it will come up later. It’s very important, and I like that this seemingly random detail is included. It’s a sort of subtle bit of foreshadowing.
Once in a while as she sorted and dipped the broomstraw, her thoughts strayed back to Maracaibo and her office job. The few cents an hour they paid her here were a far cry from the excellent salary she had received then, and the work there had been much easier. But she felt happier now, and sent a silent thank you heavenward.
So basically, they left Maracaibo for no real discernible good reason. Then they got converted to Seventh Day Adventism, and now Pearl has a job where she is probably way underpaid for her labor.
I know that money doesn’t buy happiness. I know that money isn’t everything. However, financial security is nothing to sneeze at. Pearl and her mother were doing fine before they came to this (likely very expensive) school where Pearl got a job where she’s not only paid in pennies, she’s working with dangerous chemicals.
(How do I know they’re dangerous chemicals? We’ll get to that in future posts.)
The author also feels the need to assert that Pearl is much happier here than she was in Maracaibo, as if that somehow makes it all ok. I want to assert that this is not okay. It’s not ok that Pearl was manipulated into coming here to take a job working with dangerous chemicals that probably barely pays enough to cover her school bill. I get that this was the 1930s (even though I’m supposed to judge the book by the standards of the publication date of 1976) and safety standards in the workplace were lower.
That still does not excuse the fact that the school is absolutely taking advantage of Pearl.
In fact, I could go on for quite a long time about how poorer students are taken advantage of. In boarding school, I was not even paid minimum wage for the jobs I worked until I turned 18. I was shocked, upon getting a real job, to learn that the 16 year olds would earn the same salary I did. That just didn’t happen in boarding school, and I was under the impression it didn’t happen in the real world, either. Adventist boarding schools absolutely take advantage of the poorer students. I could totally see the colleges doing the same thing.
But Pearl is happier, so none of that matters.
Fast forward to February, and the girls in the dyeing department are talking about boys, wondering if there will be any cute ones.
“Do most of the students live in the dormitories?” Pearl tried to change the subject.
We’ll get into this in another post, but Ellen White does not approve of this sort of talk. It was quite clear at Academy that “good girls” didn’t engage in this sort of thing. I imagine this was a much bigger deal in the 1930s than it is now. I think SDAs have kinda relaxed a bit on this. Mainstream ones, at least.
What the author also ignores is that it could also be downright dangerous to not engage in this sort of talk. Refusing to talk about boys could lead to rumors that you were a lesbian. And then some truly terrible things could happen to you.
So, the author is probably trying to show that Pearl is a good girl who doesn’t think about boys…. but in real life, someone like that could very easily start rumors about herself that could have devastating consequences. Ask me how I know.
The girls refuse to let Pearl change the subject.
“We’ll have to find Pearl a boyfriend,” Florence said, laughing.
The chapter ends with Pearl saying that a boyfriend is the last thing she needs, because she has to focus on her studies.
The next chapter starts off with the arrival of the boys. Will one of then be Pearl’s future husband? Will she get her all important MRS degree? What exactly is the plot of this book, again? We might find some of that out next week.