John Edgar Wideman

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What is the impact of presenting multiple generations in John Edgar Wideman's “Daddy Garbage”?

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In “Daddy Garbage,” John Edgar Wideman presents multiple generations and various time periods to provide a broader perspective on the main characters and their world. Let's look at this in more detail.

When we first meet Lemuel Strayhorn, he is an old man. He still sells shaved ice, and he is reminiscing with Geraldine French, who has come to purchase ice for her nephew and her great nieces and nephews. They speak of Daddy Garbage, Strayhorn's old dog who has been dead for many years. We can tell that Geraldine thinks highly of Strayhorn and always has.

Then the story goes back in time to Strayhorn's younger years when he finds a dead baby in the trash on a cold, snowy day. Geraldine's father, John French, helps Strayhorn bury the child. In between the sections of the main story, we have short interludes focusing on Lizabeth French, Geraldine's sister, first as a little girl and then as a new mother. The first episode contrast the loving atmosphere of the French family to the dead child. The second reveals the love John French has for his daughter.

These shifts in time and across generations help us see the main story through different lenses. Strayhorn the older man is pretty much the same as he was the night he buried the child, and the mention of the dog probably brings up the whole incident in his mind even though he does not speak of it. Yet time has passed. John French is gone. His children have grown. His grandchild and great-grandchildren stand before Strayhorn. Perhaps, though, the world is not all that different. There is both change and consistency.

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