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Cecile is a complex character in One Crazy Summer. Her actions towards her children reflect her conflicted nature.
Cecile is passionate towards her voice. She shows this in her initial reactions when the girls land in Oakland. She tells them, "I didn't send for you. Didn't want you in the first place. Should have gone to Mexico to get rid of you when I had the chance." Harsh as this is, it shows the value she places on her individual experience. As the narrative develops, it becomes clear that Cecile values her sense of identity and does not favor anything external taking from it.
As the story grows, Cecile is active in the political cause of Civil Rights in the late 1960s. She feels her voice as a poet and artist can find a home in the social movements of the time period. This can be seen in the name she has taken of "Nzila," meaning "the path." The embrace of "her new self" in the "poet's name" shows how she values artistic and social expression more than personal attachments like children.
However, Cecile's complexity is demonstrated in the elements she sees in her children, especially Delphine. As she watches her eldest born girl make a meal to offset the continual diet of Chinese take-out their mother has forced upon them, Cecile recognizes her own spirit of independence: "We're trying to break yokes. You're trying to make one for yourself....It wouldn't kill you to be selfish, Delphine."
Such words reflect the conflicted person that Cecile is. She might seek to define her own identity through art and social activism, but she cannot escape the fact that these children are her own. They are an extension of her. The girls "get" this is, as well. When they clean up the kitchen after the police ransacked the place, they find the poem that their mother wrote, "I Birthed a Nation." The poem reflects her love for them and how she views what she gave to the world.
Cecile's complexity is enhanced with her explanation to Delphine behind why she left. She knew she could not give them the life they deserved as well as the life that she wanted. While there is much more she wants to say, when she tells Delphine that she should, "Be eleven while you can," it shows the compassion she has for her children. She understands that the past cannot be undone and must be accepted. Cecile only asks for her children to have a small understanding about her choices within it.
When Cecile and her girls hug at the airport, the complexities that exist between them become very clear. There is hurt and pain, but also love and grace. Cecile is a really complex character. She abandons her children. However, the book shows that there is usually a great deal involved within a decision like this. It cannot be easily judged. Rather, it must be understood by appreciating the conditions that compelled someone to do it.
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