A Quest for Agency: Don’t Let Me Be Lonely

Agency plays an ever-present role in Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric. Her original work is splayed throughout with cultural references–medical, entertainment, sports, political, historical, and literary. A constant theme that appears strung through these references is that of death and a fear of death, suggesting that it is something she struggles with greatly. In one particular passage, she references her 40th birthday: “It occurs to me that forty could be half my life or it could be all my life.” She continues relaying it to culture, “On the television I am told I don’t want to look like I am forty. . .With injections of Botox, short for botulism toxin, it seems I can see or be seen without being seen; I can age without aging. I have the option of worrying without looking like I worry,” (104). Society, to her, is guiding her agency and telling her how to live. Smith and Watson write of agency, “Where and how does a narrator thematize her ability to interpret her life, and perhaps recognize an obligation to an other?” The answer here is on every page. Through this work, she makes an attempt at gaining back her own agency by gaining her own sense of self-understanding. She expresses her concerns, self-doubts, and fears on every page of this book. In a separate passage she presents what appears to be a dialogue: “Define loneliness? / Yes. / It’s what we can’t do for each other. / What do we mean to each other? / What does a life mean? / Why are we here if not for each other?” (62). Within this passage, Rankine recognizes precisely an obligation that people have to each other, or what they are lacking in obligation. Along with this she also questions life, perhaps her own life, and her own understanding of it. All aspects of this work tie into her theme of death and the struggle she blatantly faces throughout trying to define herself and her place in life through American culture. Her struggle for agency.

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