What was the impact of family ancestry on Williams' life?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the first part of his narrative, Williams' ancestry only consisted of knowing that he was White.  In his life in Virginia, Williams knows of his father as an "Italian"  and his mother as White.  There does not seem to be much in way of delving into his ancestry.  He does not see the need for it.  He sees himself as White.  The world around him in Virginia sees him as White.  In this light, there is not an evident need to go into his ancestry as it would confirm what it is that he knows.

When Williams moves to Indiana, he comes to know more of his ancestry.  Ancestry is shown to be a force that sheds more light on one's identity, but still fails to answer the most critical questions about the social construction of race.  As Williams comes to know that he is a child of color, it is in this realm where greater connection with his past in the form of his Aunt Bessie and Grandma Sallie becomes evident.  Williams is forced to confront his identity when he recognizes that he is a child of color.  Ancestry plays a role in understanding who he is and why he is seen the way he is.  Ancestry is shown in the narrative to not be the absolutist answer to anything.  Williams is as perplexed by the issue of race with or without his ancestry.  Yet, when he recognizes that society sees him as a child of color, his ancestry occupies a more relevant role in his life than it did when he saw himself as White.  Ancestry is shown to provide more information, but still reveal little about the central issues and questions of race that prove to be enigmatic to the young Williams.