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The Effects of Kate’s Birthmark in Jill McCorkle’s Ferris Beach

The Effects of Kate’s Birthmark in Jill McCorkle’s Ferris Beach

“‘It’s a birthmark’, my mother said over and over. ‘Lots of people have birthmarks'”(p.44). In Jill McCorkle’s Ferris Beach, Kate Burns has a birthmark. The presence of her birthmark causes Kate to be shy and self-conscious. It is her weak spot, affecting how she perceives both herself and others. Because of the focus Kate’s birthmark draws to her face, she places great importance on appearance. Kate’s stress on the way things look affects her relationships with everyone around her and especially the women in her life. Through most of the novel, Kate’s relationship with her mother is clouded by her relationships with Mo Rhodes and Angela. It is not until Kate is able to look past mere appearances and see these women clearly for what they are, that her relationship with her own mother can begin to grow and develop.

Kate hates her birthmark. Even more, she hates her mother’s attitude about her birthmark. Kate desperately wants someone to blame for her birthmark and someone to have pity for her. She “always wanted to say that if it was a birthmark it must be her [Cleva’s] fault”(p.44). Her mother, however, is unsympathetic and explains, “I just want her to see that she can’t let this ruin her life; there are things we just have to accept”(p.48). Kate’s mother tries to constantly remind her that things could be worse and she shouldn’t whine. But during her early childhood years, Kate’s birthmark does affect her and it is hard for her to accept. Kate feels that her birthmark is an open invitation for others to hurt her. She becomes extremely self-conscious as she puts up with teasing by Merle Hucks and R.W. Quincy. Covering her face with her hand becomes an automatic reaction. Kate’s attitude about her birthmark and her attitude towards her mother become a source of tension in their relationship. She hates that her mom simply will not apologize for the birthmark.. Kate begins to hate her mother for her lack of compassion and so she seeks other women with which to form bonds. Mo Rhodes and Angela become substitutes to compensate for the close relationship that Kate lacks with her own mother.

Mo Rhodes is the epitome of a “cool” mom. When the Rhodes’ move in across the street, Kate is intrigued by Mo and overwhelmed by the chance to get to know Misty, a friend her own age.

Exploration of Mortality, Sexuality, and Humanity in Ferris Beach

Exploration of Mortality, Sexuality, and Humanity in Ferris Beach

Throughout the journey of life, each person experiences events, emotions, and consequences that cannot be explained. Situations do not always turn out for the best, and it is human nature to attempt to come to some type of understanding or answer as to why things are the way they are. In Ferris Beach, a bildingsroman, or the story of a girl’s coming of age, Kate Burns grapples with questions of life and death as she seeks some sort of explanation for her problems. Her fight to comprehend the events in her life are shown in her exploration of mortality, sexuality, and humanity.

Death is always a hard concept with which one must deal at some point in life. Kate wonders what is loose in the world and why people close to her are taken away forever in the deaths of Mo Rhodes and her father Fred. On Independence Day, the fateful beginning of the catastrophe unfolding, Kate experiences her first adult troubles. Similar to Jem and Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, Kate moves through her innocence into experience with some obvious and some inconspicuous brushes with the adult world. As she sits with Misty observing the fireworks, she senses the troubles in her best friend.

I turned to Misty, ready to ask her why her parents had

left, but she was sitting there hugging her knees with her

head dropped back as she stared up at the sky…there

was something in her silence that made me hold my

question, and instead I inched over closer to her, hugged

my knees, and stared up just as she was doing (McCorkle 81-82).

Kate is aware that something has gone awry but she does not accurately know what the situation is. Despite the distractions of the fireworks, her father’s comments, the boys fighting on the beach, and Mrs. Poole’s endless chatter, Kate focuses on the most important (though silent) thing going on with Misty. The faint hint of disarray in Misty precedes Kate’s reaction to Mo’s death. Kate, throughout the novel, “watches” different people and, from her house, she can see into the Rhodes’s and Hucks’s houses. She “watches” Misty’s house after Mo’s car accident and comments that Misty “…looked so pale” and that the whole family “…froze like the end of a play”(McCorkle 91).

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