An Analysis of Adversity in Divisadero

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Updated: Aug 18, 2023
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Category: Psychology
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Adversity is an obstacle that every individual faces at any given point in their lifetime. Many people are given an opportunity when confronted with difficult circumstances. In the fictional excerpt Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, a young woman named Mary-Neige confronts many life hardships shortly after her husband leaves for prison. Without her husband by her side to support her, the author reveals her true character when she must overcome these hardships herself. When an individual is faced with adversity in their lives, it is their decision whether or not to overcome it. The outcome of their decision molds the way they react to future adversities, and only then can an individual’s identity be shaped.

The aftermath of adversity is dependent on how each individual handles a given situation. When a situation is severe enough, people aren’t given a choice regarding how they can react when placed in a difficult position. As a child, life should be simple; filled with love and laughter. During my childhood, this would have been a dream – paradise. My childhood was one that no child should ever have to experience. My father, who should have been a support system, was the polar opposite. Instead of being the ideal father, he was a man filled with self-directed anger. Every night, he would come home from a long day at work disappointed with his children. Of his three daughters, I was the biggest disappointment. I wasn’t the prettiest nor the most sociable. I was quiet and kept to myself. Because I did not embody his ideal child, he physically, verbally, and emotionally abused me. Unable to tell others about my situation, I was alone and left to struggle with his abuse. I was hit every night and blamed for provoking his violence. The only way I could keep the abuse a secret was by attributing my injuries to sports. I was scared, unsure of what else I could do for fear that he would escalate the abuse. It took me years to realize that he was a man tormented by his self-imposed adversities. Instead of confronting and overcoming them, he chose to avoid them, turning into a man who thrived on controlling others.

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He was so overwhelmed by the difficulties he brought upon himself that he felt the need to project his struggles onto his own flesh and blood. Once my parents finally split up six years ago, I felt free. The divorce between my parents gave me the opportunity to become a better person. I had the chance to stare my adversity in the face and stand up for myself. It felt good to say something. By standing up to my father, I began to reveal who I truly am. I was not the things my father made me believe, far from it. Two years after my parents’ divorce, I built up the confidence to tell my mother about what I had endured. Social services got involved, but it was a significant step towards my self-recovery. Ever since I told my mother, I have been striving to improve myself. I still have a hard time trusting men since I didn’t have a dependable father figure in my life. Choosing to confront my adversity has led me to be more optimistic about what I can handle. If I hadn’t chosen to stand against my father, I could have ended up just like him. Going through this adversity and choosing to overcome it has shaped the person I am today.

Diverse situations shape an individual’s identity and play a role in how a person perceives themselves. The excerpt from Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, reveals Mary-Neige’s development when she accepts the responsibilities of the farm and grows as an individual. With her husband Roman in prison and the farm duties thrust upon her, she must take control of the farm out of necessity. During the 1800s, women were not typically educated and Mary-Neige was no exception. However, she was resourceful with the knowledge she did have, supplementing it with books given to her by a neighbour. The farm setting emphasizes her ingenuity as she prepares the land for planting, raking the earth with manure and fending off pests with her own methods. By devoting this level of dedication and labour to the farm, the aspiration to “grow a perfect black tulip” symbolizes Mary-Neige’s struggle with her husband’s abandonment and the burdens placed on her, and her efforts to overcome them. She experiences a newfound sense of independence she didn’t possess when Roman was present.

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To make matters worse, she had a miscarriage. However, in revealing her true self, she did not let this event shape the person she is today. While reminiscing about the dark period while her husband was in prison, happier memories follow of taking on farm responsibilities. This experience resulted in her gaining independence from her husband and freeing herself from uncertainty. Responding to her identity being shaped by adversity, she looks beyond the tragedies she was put through and educates herself to become self-sufficient. Although she continues to visit him in prison, she is not dependent on him for livelihood. Lucien, her neighbor, remarks that she was now entering the “world of the grower of the black tulip,” symbolizing her thriving and succeeding. Mary-Neige’s identity becomes interwoven with the land and the process of overcoming her ordeal. Overcoming adversity takes time. The way we handle the setbacks we face shapes who we are. Simply put, everyone is different and handles adversity differently; this creates variations among people that have evolved over time. As for Mary-Neige and myself, we both chose to make our ordeals part of our pasts and to give ourselves the chance to grow from them.

Mary-Neige took her husband’s departure to prison as a positive situation in order to “grow the perfect black tulip” that she wanted to be. It gave her the opportunity to become a strong, independent, and self-sufficient woman. Adjusting my perspective on my adversities gave me newfound independence and the ability to choose how I interact with different people in my life. Each individual is a driver on life’s broken road. We heed the signs and follow where they guide us along the path of nourishment, leading us to our final destination.

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An Analysis of Adversity in Divisadero. (2022, Nov 14). Retrieved from