There are times when we feel we must be perfect in order to please others. No matter if we did the best we could do, if it wasn’t perfect we felt like a failure. We want the approval that comes with perfect ness. Every day we see a new commercial or magazine showing an image of a hunky, greased up muscle man or an anorexic model with tons of make up air brushed on her body and society compares you with that image. We as a people tend to use those false images of beauty as a scale to rate the rest of the population by and if you do not fit in that category you are not beautiful. So we strive to be accepted to be approved by the rest of society.
In Janice Mirikitani’s poem “Suicide Note” a young Asian American college student apologizes to her parents for not being perfect. Perfect in school and perfect in life. Even though the girl worked very hard and did very well it wasn’t good enough in her mind and maybe in her parents’ mind to be worthy of her parents’ love or life itself, and so her only option was death to atone for her sin of imperfectness.
The poem begins:
How many notes written…/ ink smeared like bird prints in snow./ not good enough not pretty enough not smart enough / dear mother and father ./ I apologize/ for disappointing you / I’ve worked hard, / not good enough / harder, perhaps to please you.(373.1-9)
Clearly the girl in this poem the girl is apologizing for much more than grades. She has set unrealistic standards for herself and has a lack of self worth all because she cannot achieve these standards. She cannot change the way she looks, yet she is apologizing for not being “pretty enough”.
She also goes on to talk about how life may have been better for her if she were a son instead of a daughter. She would be worthy of love because she associates strength, confidence, beauty and smarts with being male. “I would swagger through life / muscled and bold and assured,”(373.17-18).
Who do we blame for this young girl’s negative self-image? Is it society’s fault that she values being a male more than her own life or is it her parent’s fault for not making her feel the love that she so desperately needs right now? Obviously she was never appreciated for her work because she’s constantly apologizing for not being “good enough” throughout the whole note and talks about how failure, disappointment and disapproval drive her closer to committing suicide. Maybe if her parent’s voiced how they felt about her this tragedy could have been prevented.
Further into the poem she talks about how she will atone for her sin of imperfectness. “My sacrifice I will drop / bone by bone, perched / on the ledge of my womanhood,/ fragile as wings”(373-374.31-34). She is toying with the idea of jumping from a ledge knowing that death will be the out come of her actions. Who will be there to stop her since she doesn’t matter? ” Not strong enough”(374.35) she utters next. She doesn’t yet have the courage to fly like a baby bird from a nest off of her window ledge. She pictures herself as a sparrow “sillied and dizzied by the wind”(374.39). The reason she pictures herself as a sparrow because a sparrow is a little bird that is not considered to be a really important creature. Compared to a hawk or an eagle, a sparrow is a peasant bird, or an everyday bird. People have noticed sparrows before, but never pointed them out like they would if they were a hawk or an eagle. They would praise a hawk or an eagle, not a sparrow.
Each line in the poem is building the young girl up to that state of mind where only death is the escape. She’s thinking of all the things that have led her up to this point.
“not good enough not strong enough / not smart enough”(374.48-49)
Maybe this way someone will finally notice her. She hopes that ” they will bury / my bird bones beneath / a sturdy pine”(374.57-59). The pine refers back to the beginning where she pictures herself as a male child. The pine represents what would have happened if she turned out to be a boy. This could also mean, that in the afterlife she wants to be as strong as a pine, hoping that she would be brought back in the afterlife as a boy.
The suicide was a way for the college student to be noticed. It was very unfortunate that she had to take her own life just to get attention, and to get appreciation for all the things that she had done and still it wouldn’t be good enough for her parents.