Maile Meloy's "Ranch Girl" and Its Meaning in My Life
In Maile Meloy's short story Ranch Girl, she makes the claim that an individual's childhood environment influences the choices and decisions that a person makes later in life. Indeed, school, peer pressure, and friendships all play a role in determining the decisions that the narrator of this story makes, just as these things did for me. In reading Ranch Girl, I became more aware of the extent to which events from my youth led to some of the decisions I have made as a young adult. As the old saying goes, "life is a journey," and all of our journeys begin sometime during our growing years.
For me, the beginning of that journey began before I had left elementary school. While in the fourth grade, a friend and I had been accused of trashing and despoiling a bathroom (more than it usually was, at any rate) by a student we heartily disliked. As we all sat in the counselor's office, having justice meted out, I began to acquire a certain distrust of adult authority, and particularly the authority of school officials. I found my situation very similar to the one in which the narrator finds herself in this passage: "At Western, in the fall, in a required composition class, her professor accuses her of plagiarism because her first paper is readable. She drops his class," (Meloy, 165). I was unable to make such decisions, but having been similarly convicted of doing something that I didn't do left it's mark on how I treated school authority afterwards. To this day, I prefer to sort my problems out on my own, rather than ask for help, a strategy that really does have its drawbacks.
I was also struck by how peer pressure is portrayed in Ranch Girl, because I can again make similar comparisons in my own life. The narrator and her friends all gather to a place called "the hill," where the rodeo boys race and fight each other while the girls watch. When the narrator turns sixteen, she bows to peer pressure (though not unwillingly) when she "starts going out at night" to "curl her hair into ringlets and put on blue eyeshadow," (Meloy, 162). Like the narrator, I had a place similar to "the hill" in my life. Every day, during gym class, we were allowed to do whatever we wished for the remainder of the peroid, after we had finished our exercises. One popular activity was a game of what we called "hoops," wherein two lines were formed , and the person at the front of each line tried to throw a basketball through the hoop before their opponent. I cannot recall the number of times I succumbed to the peer pressure to be a part of this game, but I do remember the emotions I got from this. At times, it was a fierce feeling of joy, if I happened to be doing especially well. At others, I felt a sense of belonging, and I would wish that the game would never end. This experience was odd for me, because in other ways, I was not a particularly active or gregarious child. I preferred a small group of friends. But playing "hoops" in the gym at school taught me that it is possible to find comfort within a large group of people. For a time, I knew the joy that the narrator feels in Ranch Girl, when she spends her nights on "the hill." Like her, peer pressure helped me gain a feeling of security and conformity, a feeling of peace.
Also interesting is the friendship the narrator has with the character of Carla. In some ways, Carla is the opposite of the narrator. As the narrator drops a class because of a wrongful accusation of plagiarism, Carla "gets an A on her biology midterm at the University in Bozeman. She's going to be an animal vet" (Meloy, 165). But Carla later drops out of college to marry a man named Dale Banning, and then later leaves him and returns to the ranch. She tells the narrator "You're so lucky to have a degree and no kid. You can still leave" (Meloy, 166). For me, it was interesting to draw the comparisons between the narrator and Carla, as they seem to represent two different possibilities. Neither I, nor any of my friends, have worked our way through college yet. But I am currently going to a community college, while many of my friends from high school are at George Mason or Radford Universities. The story seems to beg the question "am I an underachiever, or will I ever do as well in life as my friends seem to?" Only time, hard work and determination may answer that question, but this aspect of Ranch Girl has provided me both a sense of encouragement and a word of warning. Anything could happen. Then again, anything could happen.
In the end, Ranch Girl is about how a girl decides that her home is more important to her than the future she might have outside it. She knows that she will never entirely fit anywhere else but the Montana ranch where she grew up. Her decision is described thus: "But none of these things seem real. What's real is the payment on her car and her mom's crazy horses, the feel of the ranch road she can drive blindfolded and her dad needing her in November to bring in the cows" (Meloy, 167). In this, the narrator is a lot like me, and a lot like almost all other people. In the end, our lives are determined by the decisions we make, and by the factors that influence those decisions.
Sources and Citations
Meloy, Maile. "Half In Love: Ranch Girl." New York: Scriebner, 2002.