A Mountain To Climb Chapter 4: Never Again

We last left off with the main character, Pearl, getting adjusted to school. One of her friends, Florence, has told Pearl she needs to get herself a boyfriend.

So naturally, this chapter begins with the arrival of the boys, brought to the school by the principal. One of the male students is named Arthur Ward, who apparently works in the business office.

In spite of the banter around her, Pearl felt the old fear tugging inside. Her first classes were just 2 days away. Could she discipline her mind to study again? She didn’t dare fail. What a letdown that would be, not only to her but to her mother. She just had to succeed.

I like this. I like that we are getting to see some of Pearl’s anxiety. Pearl is human, and it’s normal to maybe be worried about some of this when one is going back to school. Pearl is anxious, but she does not sound overly whiny.  This is one of the few parts of this book that is done well.

Pearl voices her anxiety to Florence, who reassures her. Florence offers to go with Pearl to help her register for classes, and Pearl feels a lot better.

I like Florence. Aside from her “you need a boyfriend” comment, she seems alright. I am supposed to like Florence. I like Florence. I wanted to point this out because this is about the only time I will say this.

We turn the page, and Florence has helped Pearl through the registration process, classes start, and Pearl realizes that things are going to be ok. All on the same page.

She slipped easily into the routine broom shop in the morning, school in the afternoon, study at night-and she loved every minute of it.

We get all this build up with the main character talking about her anxiety, and then we are showed exactly nothing of her first day. Just that it all went well and she slipped into a routine. Which…. I mean, I get that that’s kind of not the main point of the book, but then, why spend all that time writing about it? In fact, why not just start with Pearl’s first day of school, show that, skip the conversion. Skip the first chapter where she drinks blood. Skip all of that and summarize it in a paragraph in the opening chapter. If you even need a full paragraph.

We are then told that Pearl spends evenings with her mother.

“I just love it here,” [Pearl] said. “The students are so friendly.”

“Just so you don’t go and get too friendly with one of these young men. You don’t have time for such nonsense.” Mother Lindsay looked grim.

Pearl reassures her mother that of course she won’t get friendly with the young men, because she’s got classes to worry about.

This is also an acceptable bit of foreshadowing. With something like this included, you know Pearl’s going to wind up flirting with someone.

Now, I want to bring this up now, even though it won’t be established until like, the penultimate chapter of the book. Mother Lindsay may seem strict and kinda mean, like she’s trying to control her daughter’s sexuality. I spent most of the book wondering why she wouldn’t just lighten up.

But, in the 1930s at “Caribbean Training College,” the faculty there would not let you be a student if you were married.

In the Adventist community, and this was probably particularly true in the 1930s, boyfriends nearly always lead to marriage. Mother Lindsay knows that if her daughter does get a boyfriend, she’ll eventually have to choose between him and school. That’s a hard choice, and I can understand why she doesn’t want her daughter to make it.

I’m bringing this up now, because I spent the entire book wondering why Pearl couldn’t have a boyfriend.

But we’ll unpack that a little more when we actually get to that part.

Which is actually pretty far off,  despite the fact that in the very next paragraph Pearl gets all woozy headed when Arthur Ward says hi to her in the library.

In the days that followed, Arthur seemed to meet Pearl often on the sidewalk or in the library. Pearl looked forward to these casual encounters more than she would admit even to herself.

Well. That didn’t take long.

And then we come to a part where I feel a bit silly, because in the next paragraph Pearl gets all excited that Arthur is speaking Spanish with her. Pearl, like me, speaks it as a second language. Which is interesting because I thought Spanish was spoken in Barbados. A quick Google search, however, shows that English is spoken in Barbados. Spanish is spoken in Maracaibo, where Pearl spent 8 years of her life. Then what do they speak at Caribbean Training College? CTC is in Trinidad and Tobago, where they speak…. English. Pearl’s first language is English?

Well. I just learned something new today.

We are then told that Pearl and Arthur speak Spanish to each other from then on, so that no one else can eavesdrop. Why? What are they saying that they don’t want anyone to hear? You know what, I have decided I do not want to know.

Arthur tells Pearl that he helped build a lot of the buildings on campus.

I have googled enough to know that Arthur and Pearl Ward are real people. There’s not much on the internet about them, but I would be willing to think that Real!Arthur did help build the school.

One time, a group of us were weeding in the pineapple patch, having a great time, when all of a sudden we hard a yell from one of the fellows. We ran over to see what his problem was, and found him attacking something that was squirming on the ground. We all joined in and soon had the victim stretched  out, only to discover that it was a lady’s stocking, stuffed!

Which seems harmless, until you start to wonder what would’ve happened if one of the fellows had ever been attacked by a real snake. Would they have thought he was joking again and shrug it off?

And then we get to this… part. Arthur is in a hurry, and for some reason, Pearl decides to block his way, “as a joke.” This is highly annoying behavior, and I usually have to resist kicking someone in the shins when they do it.

So while part of me doesn’t blame Arthur for what he does next, this strikes me as rude.

Arthur picked her up by both her shoulders, set her to one side, and walked in.

This doesn’t work for me. This, to me, suggests that Arthur views Pearl as an object. If she is in the way, he will merely remove her. Like an object.

This was quite rude, and I don’t blame Pearl for being angry afterward.

“How dare he?” Pearl sputtered.

“He was just joking,” Florence told her.

Sometimes our jokes really aren’t funny. Sometimes our jokes have a way of accidentally revealing the worst of us. Also, the “he was just joking” excuse gets used a lot as a way of excusing or worse justifying some really awful stuff. “Oh, those comments that pastor made about your body? He wasn’t being creepy, he was just joking!” Or “That joke wasn’t racist, it was funny! Lighten up!”

It’s only a joke if everyone who’s in on it thinks it’s funny.

And so, while your mileage may vary on some things, this passage doesn’t sit well with me. It just screams “entitled male” and “uppity woman trope.”

The chapter ends with the chapter title:

“Joking or not, I’ll never speak to him again!”

Actually, I think that Pearl and Arthur need to have a talk about this. That is how rational adults work out their problems.

That being said, if Pearl wants to actually finish school, it might be better for her if she doesn’t speak to Arthur for another 3 years. But maybe it wouldn’t matter. If it wasn’t Arthur she fell in love with, it would be some other boy.

In any case, next chapter will lay the groundwork for the main plot of the book, which is actually not Pearl and Arthur’s romance.





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