CW: this post will discuss racist characters
I have a dilemma. So, I am currently enrolled in a short fiction writing class. For the whole year, we have had to write three short stories that appear in a cycle, i.e. they are all connected, and then for our final project we have to edit them so that they are polished. Now, my first two pieces were fairly easy to write. I had a teenaged Pakistani girl who was dealing with her white adoptive parent's racist microaggressions. In my third story, I wanted to write from the perspective of the girl's white mother. I wanted to explore the mother's background and why she ended up the way that she is. Now the problem that I have come into, is that I feel as if this final story gives the mother too much of a redemptive arc. And this is not necessarily what I intended. Now I am left with the problem of: can characters be redeemed?
I understand that this is a loaded topic, so let me break it down. Basically, the white mother is racist. Through the third story I explore her family background and I reveal that her family life was very toxic and that her grandmother who raised her was very much racist as well. Now I had no idea my story was going to take off in this direction, but I ended up having the mother realize her racist behaviour was wrong and she vows to change. But, I was left very unsatisfied with this ending. I thought I gave the mother an unrealistic redemption and I didn't want to shift the focus from all the harm she caused, to: "look, this white woman is better now!" I'm struggling because I understand that racism is a systemic issue and I don't think I explored enough about this mother realizing that racism is ingrained in her identity.
I'm just having trouble with where to go from here. You know when you feel like you have been writing a story for so long that you're just not sure how to resolve its problems? That's my feeling right now. I need to find some way to resolve my belief that this woman is too evil to be changed, but also the hopeful side that people can change. I'm just not sure if people can be redeemed from their actions, and if they can, how long would that take? Certainly not only in the 15 page limit I have.
I want to believe that people can change. I think it is a very hopeful idea that some people can show remorse for their actions and strive to do better. I have seen it before. But, I'm just afraid that in my writing of this character, her redemption comes too soon. Or, her redemption doesn't give the characters who were harmed by her actions any justice. I don't want this story to just tie racism up in a little bow and pretend that it doesn't exist. But, I've gone so far and I am in a state of writer's block right now, that I'm just not sure how to resolve it.
This is partly a rambling mix of my thoughts and partly a plea for help. What would you do? Do you think you can write characters to change, and if so, how long would this change take place? Would a time jump to show her progression help? Or, do you think I should take focused on the characters affected by her racism? Should I just throw the whole story away? Writing can be such a stressful task sometimes.
Emily @ Paperback Princess