In this post I’m going to attempt to thread some of my thoughts together from class on Friday, March 1 during our discussion about Big Machine. For reference at later dates, we have read up to the end of Part 2, or 24 chapters, at this point. What am I going to thread together? I’m going to explore how similar the story of Abram / Abraham is to what we know of Ricky Rice. This post doesn’t follow much of a chronology, so my apologies for that, I just have a lot of thoughts about the Bible at this point for reasons I also don’t understand, as I haven’t been consistently to church since high school. Again, for reference, the Abrahamic stories are contained in Genesis 12-25. Much of this post is a stretch. I’m not claiming any solid connection from LaValle to the Bible, but I noticed a few similarities during the discussion my group had in class, and I wanted to dig deeper to see if there is actually anything more than the more noticeable examples I found in class. Think of this as documentation of my expedition across these texts. As of right now, I don’t really know what my conclusion will be. Let’s journey together!
In re-reading the Abrahamic stories from the New Living Translation(which is the chronology I am primarily going to trace to for arbitrary reasons) partly because it is the translation that is most interesting to me for reasons that could build another post. However, the first similarity I draw (similarity may be a stretch) is between Abram deciding to tell the Egyptians that his beautiful wife is actually his sister in hopes that he won’t be killed or treated with anything but respect. This plan works, as even though Abram and his family (wife, Sirah and nephew, Lot) are forced to go to Egypt because of famine in Canaan and thus have little to offer, Sirah’s beauty alone (at least the biblical telling) grants them to be welcomed to the Pharaoh’s palace and given livestock and servants, granted the Pharaoh takes Sirah as his own wife. After the Lord sends sickness upon the Pharaoh’s household, the marriage between Abram and Sirah is discovered, and they are kicked out of Egypt with their belongings. Seems like a decent exit to me. I bring up this story because it brings to mind when Ricky denies Violet’s invitation to a romantic relationship in chapter 15. I’m thinking of this situation because Ricky is staying true to his hopes of self preservation like Abram did, even though arguably unethical means were used to get there. Abram claimed his wife as his sister and allowed the Pharaoh to marry her so that they could live in peace, and Ricky denied Violet not because he was an “asshole” (LaValle 60), but because he has tried so many times to have a father and failed. Both situations (again, I know this is a stretch) could have been talked out further in my estimation to reach a similar end with different means. The end does not always justify the means; I feel as though the “just” means will always precede a desired end, however potentially painful.
I’m going to shift my lens to a broader sense, as the level I just studied is probably more suited for an analytical paper on the topic. Sticking thematically, I am intrigued by the similarities between the situations at points in Abram’s and Ricky’s stories.
In the beginning of both stories, I am struck by the “failure to launch” nature of both Ricky and Abram. Ricky tells it best through the narration: “When I was twenty-two, I could convince myself that better things were coming, but by thirty-six their praise sounded like pity. As I left my office, I leaned against the doorway and I prayed for strength” (LaValle 82). Abram, on the other hand, is called out by God when he’s seventy-five years old and still living in his father’s tent with a wife who cannot bear him a child–another key detail mentioned as an earlier bane to Ricky’s existence.
While I find connections to Abraham, the case may be that this is simply because I know the Abrahamic stories particularly well, and they interest me. Another section of the Bible that sticks out to me is both Matthew 7:24 about the two church builders, one on rock and one on sand, followed by Matthew 16:18, You are Peter, and on this rock I build My church (this is the translation from Tu Es Petrus, the Latin text used in sacred music that I’ve sung, and thus resonates with me). What piques my interest about these verses is the conclusion of chapter 24 in Big Machine with a word from the Dean: “You’ll be the stone” (LaValle 97). This is not the only biblical reference in the chapter, as David and Goliath are mentioned prior to this, and Judah is a biblical name that is traced to the slave who first heard the voice that the Dean is obsessed with.
Another lens would be the Dean as Abraham, as he claims he has heard the Voice (LaValle 96) before and is doing everything in his power to follow its instructions. Also present for Abraham is a voice of sorts, repeatedly referred to as the Lord. For both of these individuals, they also possess a team of people who work for them without direct pay. Abraham has servants and the Dean has his unlikely scholars. Both men care for their servants / scholars with food and shelter, but their endearment is not one of a career choice (at least it doesn’t seem that way in either situation). This is more of an observation than a text-drawn-conclusion, but I noticed that I noticed it, to refer to Dionne Brand.
These ideas are all going off at once inside my head and I want to make sense of them, but I am not the Biblical Scholar I wish I was, nor have I read quite enough of Big Machine. For the sake of length, I’m going to put these thoughts on the back burner and see what the comments may generate for me to continue my search, or perhaps I’ll just finish the novel before attempting to make conclusions such as these.