Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours

by

Lisa Wingate

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Before We Were Yours: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Victoria and Darren Sevier tell Rill to call them Papa and Mommy. To Rill, this doesn’t seem like a betrayal because they’re just words. The Seviers live near an oxbow lake that leads out to the Mississippi River. Rill learned this from the family of servants who work there, Zuma, Hoy, and Hootsie. Rill doesn’t want herself or Fern to be alone with Darren even though he tries to take them out on a pony at Victoria’s request; he only offers to do this to make Victoria happy so she won’t wander into the little cemetery they have for their miscarried and stillborn babies. Still, Rill notes that sometimes Victoria only wants her dead babies.
The fear of men that Rill developed in the orphanage carries over into her life with the Seviers, although she doesn’t talk to them about it. Victoria, it seems, adopted Fern and Rill to fill the void in her heart left by so many miscarriages and stillbirths, although she’s still haunted by them.
Themes
Personal Identity Theme Icon
Injustice and Class Divisions Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Zuma doesn’t like Rill and Fern because the Seviers buy presents for them instead of Hootsie now. Sometimes Zuma will tell Rill and Fern they’ll have to go back to the orphanage once Victoria gets pregnant; Zuma says she’s seen it happen before. Rill decides she and Fern won’t ever go back to Mrs. Murphy’s, not when the river is so close. Rill decides that as soon as she gets a boat, she and Fern can run away and find their parents. The Seviers think Rill and Fern’s mom was a college graduate who died, and their father couldn’t keep them. Rill doesn’t try to tell them the truth.
If what Zuma says is true, then the Seviers have a history of using children and then tossing them away. This is a new level of the objectification that began when they entered Tann’s orphanage and were treated like furniture. Furthermore, Tann has given Fern and Rill a new history that makes them seem more appealing (because their mother was supposedly educated), highlighting how the stigma attached to lower social classes even extends to innocent children.
Themes
Personal Identity Theme Icon
Injustice and Class Divisions Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
One morning Victoria tells Rill she doesn’t have to get herself and Fern up so early in the morning. Rill doesn’t explain that after growing up on a boat, waking up with the sun comes naturally to them. Victoria is upset that Darren isn’t at breakfast yet, so Zuma goes to get him. When Darren comes in, Victoria reminds him that he should eat meals with them to make them feel more like family. Rill gets upset when Fern giggles watching Victoria and Darren flirt. Victoria watches Fern eat and talks about how happy she is to be a mom. Darren agrees and Rill gets mad. In her mind, she yells that Fern already has parents and then clenches her jaw so much that it hurts, because it is a pain that she has control over. She thinks to herself that Fern can’t be allowed to become Beth “on the inside.”
In the orphanage, Rill’s greatest sorrow was losing her siblings. At the Seviers’ house, however, Rill’s sorrow is rooted in the fact that Fern seems to be moving on from the past and even forgetting it. When Rill clenches her jaw to hurt herself, it echoes the time in the orphanage when she puller her own hair because she wanted to experience a pain that could end. This means that the process of watching Fern internalize this new identity is as painful as physically losing her siblings.
Themes
Personal Identity Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
Victoria tells Rill that she is going to bring Fern on an outing alone so that Fern will get used to being alone with her without crying. Although Rill is nervous about Fern going to Memphis with Victoria, she embraces the opportunity to explore on her own. After Fern and Victoria leave, Rill sleeps for a while before lunch. When she wakes up, she slips into Darren’s music room when she’s sure he’s not there and starts playing a phonograph that’s out. Rill likes the music and decides to recreate it on the piano, which she successfully does. Darren claps, scaring Rill. She apologizes but Darren sits down next to her and starts teaching her how to play the whole song. Before she knows it, Rill is having fun until Darren says they can be friends. This reminds Rill of Mr. Riggs and she darts from the room to hide.
Rill and Darren begin to bond over their shared love of the piano and Darren’s admiration for how quickly Rill learns. However, this episode highlights the lasting effects of the abuse and fear Rill experienced in Tann’s orphanage. Rill associates grown men saying they want to be friends with Mr. Riggs, who sexually assaulted Camellia and later caused Camellia’s disappearance. Although Darren evidently means what he says—he wants to be friends, and he doesn’t want to hurt her—Rill can’t recognize that anymore after her experience in the orphanage.
Themes
Personal Identity Theme Icon
Child Trafficking, Heritage, and Rewriting History Theme Icon
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