It Used to be Green Once by Patricia Grace
In It Used to be Green Once by Patricia Grace we have the theme of shame, appearance, poverty, pride, good fortune and change. The story itself is a memory piece and is narrated in the first person by a woman who recalls events from her childhood and from the beginning of the story it is clear to the reader that Grace may be exploring the theme of shame. The narrator and her siblings feel ashamed because they have to wear the togs their mother has made for them. They are over-sized and do not fit. Regardless of this the children still go to school as they feel not only ashamed but embarrassed when their mother yells at them. This may be important as Grace could be suggesting the importance of appearance to the narrator and her siblings. They do not want to wear what they consider to be home-made clothes. They want clothes from the store that fit them. If anything this is understandable because as a child, particularly a teenager, how they might look and be perceived by others is important to them.
This idea of appearance or perception runs throughout the story and can be noticeable again when it comes to the fruit that the narrator eats. Again she feels ashamed because the spotlight has been put on her by Reweti and the fact that she is eating out of date produce. Though it does not appear to be clear to the narrator and her siblings that their parents are poor. How their parents manage their lives and their children’s lives is understandable. They simple cannot afford to raise fourteen children. The same comes with the red car. The children feel ashamed and feel as though they will be judged by their peers.
There may be some symbolism in the story which might be important. The red car can be seen to represent a moment of pride for the mother. She is the only one of her neighbours who has a car and it allows her to be independent of others. The colour of the car might also be significant as red is often used in literature to highlight danger. The car after all has no brakes. The new car, the green one, can be seen to symbolize good fortune and change or rather the lack of change. Despite winning fifty thousand dollars the narrator’s mother and father do not change. Unlike the narrator and her siblings who appear to consider themselves to be above others because of the fact that their father has won so much money. As mentioned the fruit could symbolize poverty and the family’s inability, through poverty, of being unable to feed themselves as the narrator might like.
The end of the story is interesting as the mother keeps the green car till it looks very much like the old red car with regard to its body. There are patches of colour remaining. This is significant as it suggests again that the mother has not changed. The only thing that has changed is the fact that the green car has brakes, even though the mother sometimes forgets this. The mother’s pride continues and she is able to bring her neighbours to the store. In reality the money won has not changed the parents nor have they radically changed their lives. True the children have better clothes and have shoes but the parents remember what it is like to live in poverty and are not really wasteful of their winnings. However the narrator and her siblings now consider themselves to be better than others.