Where'd You Go Bernadette
Maria Semple
Contributed by Ariane Heyne

Historical and Current Context

The book, Where?d You Go, Bernadette, has great relevance in modern times, having been published in 2012. It also relates to a historical context, albeit recent history with much of the book written in letter, memo, and transcript form ? types of communication that are on the verge of disappearing from contemporary culture. Although this format tends to irritate some readers, with this style impacting the cohesiveness of the story, the use of the epistolary genre in conveying information is, however, established to be extremely effective as it almost forces the reader to pay close attention to the plot. This also gives the reader a greater appreciation of the literary styles that were applied by authors in the past as they attempted to tell their stories more vividly.

The book also aligns to modern life and culture. As people seek satisfaction in life, they tend to try out new things or make spontaneous, arguable rash decisions. This is demonstrated by Bee?s mother, Bernadette, who goes missing after years of stagnation in Seattle. The book also demonstrates the relationship that usually exists between a mother and her child. Although her mother appears different from others and is criticized for appearing so, Bee loves and is proud to be associated with her. She also seems to be the only one who understands what her mother is going through, understanding that her mother is fighting to attain some level of inner satisfaction.

Bernadette?s escape from her home also fits into the traditional human social behavior where people used to move away from their hometowns, in a bid to identify new areas where they could settle in. The main motivating factor among individuals was to seek to avoid the problems they faced (Semple 41). An instance relates to the mass movement of people into America in the 16th century. People moved into the country in large numbers from Europe in a bid to escape the various problems they encountered in their home countries. Some of them include religious persecution and the lack of proper recognition. People needed to live in areas where they could enjoy their freedom.

It is an increasingly prominent problem in modern society to find people who are dissatisfied with their lives, in spite of the many achievements that they have attained. As we see with Bernadette, despite being a former McArthur Genius award-winning architect, she does not seem to recognize what happened in the past (Semple 45). She is more concerned about her current situation, with an endless need to find a situation where she can appreciate the life that she leads, as well as the people whom she sees constantly. Bernadette seems to be more interested in satisfying her inner needs with the aim to move away from the problems she has, rather than facing them head-on.

Why the Story Was Written

Maria Semple wrote Where?d You Go, Bernadette to show the struggles that people usually face as they attempt to fit into different systems and a new way of living. As it pertains to Bernadette, she is a woman who was used to excellence in all forms (Semple 49). A former award-winning architect, she is preoccupied with seeking constant adjustments in her life. She tries to avoid a situation of boredom, interested in finding a place that offers her the creativity and intellectual stimulation she needs. Thus, in the story, Semple demonstrates the dissatisfaction that many people have with their everyday status quo. Bernadette was interested in meeting different types of people, learning more about different cultures, and thinking processes so that she could get insights on how to interact better with other people.

Semple also wrote the story to show the strong bond that normally exists between a mother and a child. Although Bernadette chose to leave her home willingly, Bee was patient with her and understood why she had to make the decision. Her understanding of the situation shows a girl, wise beyond her years, who has a strong emotional connection to her mother (Semple 53). She seemed to pity her mother?s situation, that although she wanted to explore the world around her, she felt anchored to her house, yet anxious to venture outside.

Bee attempts to piece together different letters in a bid to find a clue about where her mother might have gone, remaining unhindered and committed in her quest to solve the mystery that surrounded her mother?s disappearance (Semple 64). Bee is willing to move all the way to Antarctica as an amateur detective in search of her own mother. It is a mark of love that would be identified between a parent and a child. Bee fully comprehends what her mother means to her, and she is, therefore, not willing to compromise on anything that would decrease their chances of coming together.

Semple also wrote the novel as a way to show the struggles that family members normally go through in the quest for happiness. Bee and her father are fully aware of how important Bernadette is to them, and are not willing to give up on the idea of finding her. Although Bee feels that it is because of her father that her mother left, she is willing to cooperate with him with the need to determine where she went ? and to find her.

About the Author

Maria Semple is an American author and screenwriter. She is the author of the bestseller, This One Is Mine. Before writing fiction, she wrote scripts for various television shows (Semple 401). These include Mad About You, Ellen,and Arrested Development. Semple was born in Santa Monica, California in 1964 (Farrugia & Janet 1). Her family moved to Spain after her birth, with her family eventually moving back to Los Angeles before settling in Colorado. Semple received a BA in English in 1986 from Barnard College. She currently lives in Seattle.

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