Like Tayler, I was interested by the Big Machine quote, “In case I don’t survive, I want you to know this is my voice. Ricky Rice. Your father” (LaValle, 366). In her post, “Meaning & Measure,” Tayler suggests that Ricky’s story is a measure of his life. I think it’s particularly interesting to consider language as a measure of life in the context of Big Machine, because Ricky is telling his own story. By considering what he finds important enough to record, we have insight into how he measures his own life. So what does he include? In a broad sense it’s as follows: his experience with the Washerwomen, his experience with Murder, where he is in life before Washburn Library, what happened at Washburn Library, the mission in Garland, and his life with Adele after Garland. Certain narrative events, particularly those surrounding Garland, are essential in a story written for the child conceived there. If nothing else, the inclusion of those events serve the purpose of telling the child where they came from.
Then there are other events that have nothing to do with the conception of the child, such as the experiences with the Washerwomen. Throughout the entire text I was wondering about the importance of the Washerwomen. After reading the final chapter, I think the Washerwomen symbolize one possible path for the so-called “despised” who have been rejected by society in a general sense. On page 364, Ricky considers several paths that Ronny could take. “How long would it be before Ronny told his story again, in another break room or a run-down bar, and after he was done, the folks listening would commiserate, pat his shoulder, lean in close, and ask if he’d ever heard of a man, a martyr, named Solomon Clay. Or who knew if the Dean might not become less of a race man in the future, and sometime soon Ravi Arapurakal gets a mysterious invitation in the mail.” Ricky sees The Church of Clay and the Washburn Library as institutions that validate the “despised” then capitalize on their vulnerability. The Washerwomen do something similar, validating the experiences of African Americans by rewriting the Bible to tell their story. Then converts are inducted to a hierarchy where the Washerwomen are at the top with the most power. By including his experience with the Washerwomen, Ricky is demonstrating that he was an outcast who was taken advantage of.
He’s using that experience to measure his life, but also as a contrast to the Voice’s directive, “Invite them back in.” When the Washerwomen invite someone in, that person is at the bottom of the hierarchy, much like they were when they were the “despised.” Ricky’s approach is different. After Ronny hears what Ricky and Adele have to say, he accepts most of it. “In the end it wasn’t the events that left him skeptical. It was the idea. He was distraught. ‘Can people really change like that… I mean people like me’” (LaValle, 365). Ricky’s vision of inviting someone in is giving them an opportunity to shed the title of “despised” or outcast, which he himself held for many years. This understanding of second chances, of the power of inviting someone in, is how Ricky measures his life. This is the legacy that he’s passing on to his child.
So far I have addressed the events and details that Ricky chose to include in his life story. I think that equally important, though more difficult to judge, is what was unstated. When we read the fugitive slave narratives written by Fredrick Douglass and Harriet A. Jacobs, we gave attention to the authors’ subtext. For example, Douglass wrote that he was rumored to be his master’s son, which hinted without outright stating that he should be entitled to inheritance. This was done with the purpose and audience in mind, as Douglass knew any “radical” statement would make his writing less well-received. Now that we know Ricky’s audience is his future child, an angel, we as readers can consider how he may have adapted his story to suit that audience.