This is another in a series of posts about a character I am developing for my novel-in-progress, Power of Boston. For the rest of this series, you may want to read Part 1 or Part 2 as well. Your comments as always are appreciated.
To work well within the plot of my story, it is essential that Serafina have high regard for her personal modesty. At the same time, it is vital to me that she not be perceived as a victim.
The story of The Girl in the Skirt convinced me that women who wish to live differently can run into conflict with their associates because of the way they dress. I have seen similar conflicts in the lives of Christian women who favor long skirts and eschew jewelry because of their views of modesty. I think Serafina is that kind of woman: different by choice.
On the other hand, Serafina is a bit of an action hero, and a capable fighter. She would not consider it practical to wear a skirt. How then, would I demonstrate her modesty by the way she dresses? The answer, I think, is hijab. While many seem to think that hijab is a symbol of opression, those who wear it by choice seem to be proud of it, and for some, it is even a feminist symbol. The fact that some will misinterpret it, or insult her because of it, only adds substance to her character.
This then leads to the question of what faith background Serafina should have. I don’t think I could effectively tell her story if she were a Muslim, but I don’t think that’s essential. When I visited Japan, I found there were many nominal or cultural Buddhists, and I am convinced that most Americans are cultural Christians. I therefore see no reason why Serafina couldn’t be a cultural Muslim.
Serafina’s father came to the US to work as a mathematics professor at the University of Chicago. His parents, worried that he would be corrupted by American culture, convinced him to marry before he left home for his new job. His wife (Serafina’s mother) is a conservative Muslim. Like her father, Serafina is more of an agnostic, but she learned modesty from her mother.
The question I have, however, is whether this will be best for my story.
- I think Serafina’s relationship to the Ethiopian community at large will add depth to my story, but the majority of Ethiopians are Christian. Do Christian and Muslim Ethiopians in the US interact to a significant degree?
- If Serafina’s parents come from the Muslim community in Addis Ababa, do I need to discard Amharic as her second language? Being able to focus on one language will greatly simplify my research.
- How would the more conservative family members react to the fact that she is
- working as an executive with authority over men,
- habitually dressing in trousers (pantsuits), and
- is still single at the age of 34?
I have no intent to let Serafina back down in the face of those conflicts, but I want to understand them so she can confront them accurately.