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In this paper I am going to analyze the results of the interview I carried on William Barton, a 68 year old September 11 survivor. I will seek to examine how historical experiences have influenced his current behavior and interaction with others. Burton is a divorcee who lives in North Carolina with one of his two children who is married. He divorced his wife in 2003 over what his wife described as irreconcilable differences and partly because of his excessive drunkenness that had become characteristic of him since the 9-11 tragedy. I will also seek to analyze his life using life course perspective theory in order to investigate weather his past experiences have had any significant influence in his current life. The cohort generation emerges out as an important theme from my short discussion with him.
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Life course perspective is a theory which examines how ones historical experiences, transitions in one life, and social change influences ones entire life (Hutchinson 20). She argues that it is important to try to understand ones behavior by studying the changes that have occurred at different stages of hi life. Oral history is ones account of significant events, life experiences, and life transitions as narrated through the word of mouth. Life is made up of a sequence of chronological events each of which tends to have a significant effect on ones life as noted in the interview with Barton.
William Barton is a 68 year old octogenarian nursing nagging spinal injuries that he sustained in the 9-11 tragedy. Since his divorce with his wife, life has taken a dramatic turn and as a result he drifted off from casual to heavy drinking. His son Derrick who is married looks after and lives with him while his daughter lives with her husband in Delaware where they work. William was a hard working man with a very stable family and a well paying career as an accountant until the tragedy claimed his job and the life of one of his son who was visiting him in his office. He survived with a spinal injury that rendered him unfit for any other job.
This ideal combined with circumstances that followed him after were devastating to him despite frequent counseling efforts that desperately failed. The death of his favorite son Michael was particularly devastating to him and the family. To date he remembers the events of the tragic bombing with vivid account and swears that given a chance he would join the US army at least to revenge the death of his son against the terrorists. He seems to have lost confidence with life and developed a habit of outburst which according to him his wife could not condone. Since then he has taken to heavy drinking nearly exhausting his savings which he seems intent to.
William happened to live a block away from my uncles house in North Carolina. It was during one of my many visits that I was introduced to him by my uncle. Due to the prior introduction I did not have difficulty interviewing him at his house. The rapport enabled me to carry out a forty five minutes oral interview before he excused himself for a drink with his friends at a local joint where they regularly met with his childhood friends. Due to the nature of our relationship, I did not take any notes nor did I tape the discussion since I felt that would lead to suspicion hence withholding some crucial information. I also probed about the Vietnam War which he had informed me that his father was killed in combat after which his mother remarried an event that severed the relationship following their disapproval of the man.
From the case study interview, it emerged that familial mode of production played a huge role in shaping the life of William. According to Leinbach & Casino (1) the study of the mode of production is important in generation of a deeper understanding of economic survival and the social economic structures of the households. The loss of his father for instance had catastrophic effect on his life and his family. His father had just taken a mortgage which he was servicing and a result of the death they were kicked out of the house and the house repossessed. By then, Barton was still in college and only his mother was working as a lowly paid sales woman in a pharmaceutical company which the family supplemented with sale of doughnuts after work.
The financial pressure was enormous but her mother using savings from sale of doughnuts and her salary managed to rent a low cost apartment in the Carolina suburbs. The children were very supportive and helped in the preparation and baking processes. The mode of production kept the family afloat till the siblings completed their forth grades. As a result of the financial woes surrounding the family, William sacrificed his university education ambition after his middle college certificate in accountancy course for the sake of his siblings who were in the tenth and the twelfth grade respectively.
The theme of expressive individualism was evident in the interaction processes of the family with the rest of society (Hutchinson 20). William and the siblings as they grew up were not allowed to interact with other children in the neighborhood. In addition, ties with the immediate relatives and neighbors were very weak. This seems to have been carried on by William who was similarly not close with his siblings and relatives. As a result when the tragedy occurred none came to his aid including his siblings. When troubles emerged with his wife, he did not consider seeking out for advice from any relatives. As a result frustration built up and he took up to alcohol to escape from reality. Furthermore his own daughter who is married is not keen to help her father a trend that shows deeply entrenched expressive individualism.
Looking at a different perspective of William’s life, authoritarian parenting by his parents seems to have brought drastic transformation in his personality. His father a military man was no-nonsense man whose style of high hardiness was conspicuous in the family. In case of indiscipline case, it would be visited with heavy reprimand by the parents. No one would venture out of the household unaccompanied or without the parent’s consent. Interaction with the rest of the neighborhood was limited to occasional meetings on Sundays.
Class performance was also closely monitored and poor performance would not to be excused. William equally did not tolerate indiscipline and handwork was highly upheld in the family. This however grew resentment in his wife which led to frequent outbursts as his wife did not approve of his approaches of meting out punishment on his children. These widened differences between them eventually leading to divorce. His son Michael accustomed by his style did not harbor any resentment against his father and even stood by him during the divorce while his daughter was a little bit sympathetic with the mother though she was against the divorce. She remains in close contact with her father though not as close as is brother who is deeply concerned about his father’s carefree drinking and his health. He has even sought the assistance of a rehabilitation center though his father vehemently refused to cooperate. According to William during the interview, the plot by his son was in bad taste and was influenced by his mother.
The cohort generation has also had immense influence on the life of William. A cohort is a group of people born in the same period and who went through certain cultural changes at the same time in the same age (Hutchinson 20). During his childhood, his father would bring his colleague friends home with him and William enjoyed the stories about the combat in the war zones. His father’s lifestyle was highly influenced by these colleagues. For example they would drive the same model of cars, took their children to the same schools and observed similar décor in their homes. Her children developed close friendship ties with his children. His wife happens to be one of these childhood friends whose relationship advanced to marriage.
On probing on, William told me that the sexual revolution was surprise turn of events that came with profound changes in the American lifestyles. According to John &Yoko (1) the sexual revolution is a period in the 1960’s that was characterized by a paradigm shift in the relations between men and women. They were fronted buy women liberation movements who sought for autonomy over their reproductive decisions in sexual expressions. William admitted that coming in their late teens; it brought enormous changes in the sense that sexual freedom was enhanced especially after the emergent of contraceptives in the market. Women could openly express their sexual feelings without fear of reprimand.
The historical experiences and cultural change in one life influences ones current behavior and interaction in the society. Hence to examine people’s behavior and their attitudes, it is important to consider some of their experiences they must have gone through in the past that could have orientated them to act in a particular way. The events of September 11 for example had profound effects in the life of William which sparked of a wave of changes that resulted to his current way of life. The historical understanding also helps us to explain similarities in lifestyles within a group of persons born in the same generation. I am beginning to appreciate that these changes don’t come by accident but are influenced by historical events and experiences in their life times. Life course perspective was thus developed both as a concept and a theoretical framework for the understanding of people’s lives and their growth processes (life course perspective 1).
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