11 May 2009

Because she didn't keep sweet

After I finished all the books I brought to Rome with me, I picked up Elissa Wall's STOLEN INNOCENCE: MY STORY OF GROWING UP IN A POLYGAMOUS SECT, BECOMING A TEENAGE BRIDE, AND BREAKING FREE OF WARREN JEFFS. I polished it off pretty quickly -- I'm fascinated by these Mormon splinter groups (UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN being my first exposure) and it's not hard to see why this survivor's memoir became a best-seller.

I recently reviewed a book about growing up in a cult in 1970s Queens and one of my main criticisms of it was that I never fully understood the pull of its guru leader over the community he created. Naturally, it can be hard to convey to someone outside those religious bounds the appeal of such a tight-knit organization, especially if the author (as this one had) grew up there and essentially didn't know any different for most of her life. Wall grew up FLDS, but spends a lot of time unpacking how FLDS leader Warren Jeffs controlled his flock without even the threat of bodily harm -- turning family members against each other, positioning himself and the faith as the only door to salvation and colluding with local law enforcement to create a culture of paranoia. The self-proclaimed prophet, who survived an internal power struggle after the death of his father Rulon, is currently serving 10 years in prison thanks in part to Wall's testimony that he forced her to get into an abusive marriage to her first cousin at age 14.

Wall repeatedly uses the phrase "keeping sweet" as an expression of the culture of silence and endurance fostered by FLDS church elders, particularly among the women of the church. "Keeping sweet" means responding to adverse circumstances with a smile, remaining compliant and good-natured even when things don't turn out as you planned. It's an incredibly loaded phrase for Wall because, from the time she was younger and saw the church forcibly dismantle her family multiple times (sending away her father, and later another one of his wives), she was forced to learn how to "keep sweet" to get along at church and her church school. In the years between when she first thought about leaving the FLDS and made her break with the church, she effectively had to unlearn these techniques of submission to propel herself out into the wider world. Wall grew up within driving distance of Las Vegas, but in a society as distant to me as Khomeini's Iran or medieval Britain.

3 comments:

Rozita said...

Nice review of the book! It is also very accurate.

The Pharisee said...

Ellen,

So that you know, you just got the endorsement of the "hoax caller*" that set off the YFZ raid last year. She's never set foot on the ranch or been in any FLDS community, yet she says the book is "Very accurate."

*Rozita runs the estraletta.blogspot.com blog. All indications are, that she is Rozita Estraletta Swinton, the woman who pretended to be "Sarah" at the ranch last year.

If she's not, she knows Rozita and has made consdirable efforts to convince us of her bona fides as Rozita Swinton.

Jam Inn said...

In case you didn't know it your second commenter seems to need to scoop the authorities and prove a persons right to do process should be circumvented so that he can hold court and adjudge another's guilt or innocence based upon his own judgment or findings. He seems to admit that he isn't really sure if the first poster is bona-fide or not, yet he posts his confusion and uncertainty for all to read. Poor fool that he is he thinks himself to be an 'Authority in Uncertainty', rather sad really. He seems to be working from a premise that "Sarah" is a fiction and time may prove his certainty an uncertainty during the trials.First things first here actually, are the search warrants going to be tossed? Did or didn't Officer Brooks Long believe there was a "Sarah" at the YFZ Ranch? I can say that I doubt that he did but I could be mistaken. Then will Allen Glade Steed plea bargain to guilty and recive a lesser charge/sentence?