Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

Oct 2010

(Short Story) A Wilderness of Sweets by Gilda Cordero-Fernando

(Reaction) Waning Sweetness by: Ms. Pickles

Joy is a woman who is recounting her experience of World War II, during which she was an idealistic young girl whose experience of war changed her favorable vision of the world as 'a wilderness of sweets' into its opposite, where romantic dreams and joys 'die/ And perish in their infancy.' Even though the young Joy's dynamic characterization occurs in the setting of World War II, the deterioration of her romantic perspective is caused not by the direct effects of the war on her person, but by its effects on her loved ones, which most prominently took form in the death of her brother Leo and the patriotism that the war engendered in Badel, the young boy with whom she was in love. The young Joy does not get raped nor does she suffer from the cruelties war usually inflicts on girls her age, but the death of a family member and disappointment with a loved one are enough to rob her of her romantic, childish dreams.

Joy 'was twelve when the war broke out and sixteen when it ended.' The young Joy is an adolescent who is in the process of forming her dreams. She enjoys her childhood despite the war by tending a store with her friends and siblings, playing hide-and-seek, biking, and attending the neighborhood 'Everybody's Parties.' She laments her boyish looks with its lack of curves, reads 'weepy' love stories and fancies Badel to be her lover. Although love-struck, she is not blind to her flaws and is in fact acutely aware of her simplicity: 'I wept for all the grand impossible things Badel wished me to be, which I couldn't, couldn't... [He] could fashion nothing out of the clod of me, my thoughts were cinders, my soul was shallow, it had no brook'. Yet despite this awareness she is still completely infatuated with Badel, to whom all her romantic ideals were directed. She believes that they 'will get married. / ... live together / In a little candy house / Beside a lemonade lagoon'-a fantasy that displays the height of her idealism.

The young Joy's exposure to the lurid reality of war causes the disintegration of her sentimental view of life, which starts when the Japanese soldiers arrest her father for interrogation about her brother Paby. Her recognition of a whipping coil hanging out of the back pocket of one of the soldiers leads her to instinctually realize the gravity of her family's involvement in the guerilla movement. Badel's absence from a scheduled tryst also increases her disenchantment with life and she comes to the conclusion that she is 'unwadted and unlavd.' The world she has previously looked at with sentimentality has 'already turned into ashes' and when Badel came back she already knew that her 'life had ceased being a wilderness of sweets.'

This recognition is only firmly bolstered when the destructive side of war fatally affected Joy's family when, ironically, the war was just about to come to an end. Leo's death confirms the young Joy's belief that life is indeed no longer 'a wilderness of sweets,' but is a 'wilderness of slaughter.' As the Americans usher in victory, the young Joy loses her childish idealism, and the piece of chewing gum she picks up from the street serves as an offering to the death not just of her brother, but of her youthful idealism as well. The chewing gum is a symbol of the waning sweetness of life and of young Joy's transition from a sweet, sentimental girl to a hardened young adult whose romantic, sentimental dreams 'perish[ed] in their infancy.'


Still mulling it over.

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