“A person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he values.”- Marcus Aurelius “Apollo” tells a story about a complicated relationship between 12-year-old Okenwa and his houseboy. Adichie, by stating “I was twelve years old and had, until then, never felt that I recognized myself in another person” (4) and “It was after school, with Rafael, that my real life began” (5), suggests thatthe time Okenwa spends with his houseboy is when he sheds the mask of an obedient and well- behaved son that his parents expects of him, and freely returns to his true self. “What he values” here is his relationship with Rafael, which gives him the intrinsic values that enlightens his dull and plain life.
As Okenwa bases so strongly to that relationship to seek for his inner enjoyment, his world collapses quickly when the bond is broken apart. The lie that Okenwa tells at the end results from a combination of complicated emotions. He is angry, jealous, and embarrassed. More of that, he is afraid. As he loses “what he values”, Okenwa is no longer able to define his worth, and the panic of losing the only meaningful thing in his life to someone else causes him to make such a regretful decision that he still bears the sadness from it years later. The same cause-and-effect relationship can be seen in the short story “Ordinary girls” as well, explaining clearer how important self-worth is to a person.
In “Ordinary girls”, Diaz narrates the story of herself at the age of thirteen – a struggling teenage girl with her abusive mother, the toxic environment she is living in and her continuous obsession of suicide. Based on the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is the lack of self-esteem that destroys Diaz completely as she is so young and vulnerable at the time of both suicides. It is obvious that Diaz’s life is nowhere close to meet the first three fundamental needs: she does not live in an ordinary family; she is repeatedly physically abused by her mother; she lacks the love and care from most of the responsible adults in her life – her family, her relatives, her school, etc. However, the ultimate reason that triggers the second suicidal is what her mother says to her when she is trying to kill her:”My mother says: ” You are small.”My mother says “You are nothing.”My mother says “You are nobody.” – (Diaz 52)The emphasis technique that the Diaz uses by repeating “My mother says” describes precisely how devastating those words are. They belittle her, smash her self-esteem and ego.
She loses track of her own worth. No matter how hard she struggles to survive, it turns out her existence is meaningless. As soon as Diaz finds no reasons bonding her to the world, she ends her life. The story has illustrated vividly how fragile and vulnerable a person can be if she loses her sense of self. This is not only the turning point of the story, but also the author’s life, as she decides to escape the town for good after that event.
This inspiring detail lifts the story out of its dark theme, describinghow bold and brave she is together with the development of her growth mindset. As her worth is shattered by the outer factors, she chooses to mend it from the inside. And though she goes through many wrong ways on defining herself and gaining back her self-esteem, in hints at the end that there is still hope.The little boy in the short story “Bridge” by Daniel O’ Malley, just like Diaz from “Ordinary girls”, also shows a great deal of effort on the way he establishes his self worth. Characterized as a home-schooled boy who lives in a sheltered family with his religious parents, the boy one day looks through the window and sees an old couple, whom he already saw one year ago, taking off their clothes and disappearing at the edge of the bridge. When he tells his parents, they try to convince him that it is not true. As meek and submissive as he is, the boy agrees that everything is just his imagination; however, somewhere deep down inside his mind he knows that it is not. In the story, “the bridge” is a symbolic image representing the boundary between childhood and adulthood, the inside-the-house and outside-the-house worlds, his worldview and the worldview that his parents try to impose on him.
The flash of the couple jumping off the bridge is like an epiphany moment to him about the real world out there– naked, surprising, breathtaking and true – the world that he must have desired to explore every time he stands next to the window. Even if his dismissive parents try to silent his voice and reject his thoughts with lies to protect their child, he still finds a way to work thing out. Be deciding that “the old couple were birds, or rather they had become birds” (O’Malley 195), he creates his own world where all ideas and perceptions, even the weirdest ones, make sense to him. Though awkward and absurd as it may seem, the supernatural ending that the kid comes up with is the way he chooses to define the reality that he witnesses and rationalize his own identity as an independent individual.Those stories illustrate children from different walks of life. They have various backgrounds, conditions and characteristics, but they are all susceptible when it comes to self- worth. And the common reason in these three stories is parenting. It can be extracted from these stories that either neglectful parents or overcontrolled parents have a significant impact on the way their children perceive the world.
While Diaz’s parents demonstrate excellently their failure in providing her the basic needs, Okenwa and the “Bridge” little boy’s parents, on the other hand, cross the line too far by manipulating and controlling their kids under the name of love. As their inner values are not well recognized, they depend greatly on the mental support from outer factors. Therefore, their self-esteem is easily weakened in traumatic situations. The results can end up not so significant like the way the boy in “Bridge” compromises quickly with his parents when there is contradiction, regretful and melancholic like Okenwa’s in “Apollo”, or even to the maximum extreme like Diaz in “Ordinary girls”.