Home is a place most would feel safe. It is a place where one has grown up and where they know others from their town. Home is the place where most identify themselves with as being a part of and is proud to proclaim where they come from. In Jesamyn Ward’s memoir Men We Reaped, Ward is uncomfortable in her home and identifies herself as an outsider who doesn’t fit with her family and in her own town as she has the chance to become more than a teenage mother having to work domestic jobs as a means of survival. Despite this, Ward feels her hometown calling to her whenever she is anywhere else that isn’t DeLislealso called Wolf Town. Though home is often the place most would be welcome with those they have grown up with, home is seen rather as a hindrance to any future success. In Ward’s memoir, the concept of home serves as a reminder to leave before Ward becomes the stereotype of her town.
Despite living with a family fitting the stereotype of her class and race, Ward feels as though she doesn’t belong. In DeLisle, Ward lives with people predominantly of her own racial background living at the poverty level in mostly single-parent households with multiple siblings. Ward lives with a single mother who works as a maid for “a White lawyer” (137), her brother sells crack after dropping out of school (210), and one of her sisters becomes a teenaged mother (25). However, Ward achieves the accomplishment of graduating high school and further attending college in a town where most never graduate high school and become drug addicts or sellers. Ward doesn’t participate in the latter; she wouldn’t smoke pot “until she was eighteen” and denounces her brother for selling crack, but considers him to be more “mature” and “already adept with facts [about being a Black man in the South]” (210-12). Ward further stands out when her mother takes on the offer from her employer to have him pay for Ward’s tuition to a private Episcopalian school, as she is described as being gifted among her siblings who are either “scraping by” or “oblivious and swimming through” school (138). Her intelligence is expressed when her mother leans to her and says to stop talking, to which Ward examines further:
“..she interrupted me…speaking to the pebbly asphalt road…and said Stop talking like that. As in: Why are you speaking so properly? As in: Why do you sound like those White you go to school with, that I clean up after? As in: Who are you?” (208) Ward further addresses herself as an outsider being the only African-American student from sixth grade onward to high school where her only friends would be the few students of non-Caucasian descent, who were outsiders “like her” (183).
Though one’s home is a place one feels satfe, DeLisle is portrayed as a town her grandmother states as being dangerous in a society where no one trusts each other or the outside world (169). DelLisle’s distrust of society steams from the deaths of the men Ward mentions in her memoir. One of the deaths, her brother Joshua, was caused by a White drunk driver who later receives a five-year jail sentence. Ward protests how little his life meant to the justice system; a young Black male killed before age twenty (231). Joshua’s death becomes more tragic since he was straightening up his life by working honest jobs to stay away from of selling crack. Ward knows she is a target in her town, as she symbolizes “embodiment of everything the world around [Ward] seemed to despise: an unattractive, poor Black woman'” (135). Most of her life consists of fighting to stay alive; she fights as a premature newborn (42), she fights off her family’s dog when it attacks her (57-58), and she talks back to those who make racist jokes (187). Her most impactful battle is with herself; she tattoos the name of her brother on her wrist because “[Ward] could never make that fatal cut across Joshua’s name.” (239) Living in a town where people fight internally, against society, and against others, Delisle is a place Ward has to leave behind.
The town of DeLisle serves as a reminder of what Ward’s life will become if she never leaves: seeing the men resort to the “necessity” of selling drugs (218) as the women work domestic jobs serving the upper class, as her mother did. Further more, she will be another inhabitant of a town where the men are picked off one by one and the women are left to mourn in the “murder capital.” (2) When she does return home after college, she returns to a town of barren streets as a result of Hurricane Katrina and a history littered with the bodies of men (7, 14). In DeLisle, Ward is reduced to a “poor Black woman” in the South who will live in the same small town, have children, to which those children will also carry the tradition of staying in a town where there’s someone saying the words, “Somebody got shot.” (4) As a result of leaving DeLisle, she is able to tell the story of the men in her life who died, as well as the story of her town. She overcomes becoming another African-American woman from a poor, rural town living off of welfare and becoming a possible teen mother by graduating high school and college-a rare achievement for the children in DeLisle and providing a voice for the men she remembers as well as for the people in her town she grew up with through her memoir. However, the final lines of her memoir state how despite the dangers Ward faces in DeLisle, she doesn’t deny her roots. She disproves herself and her town being “nothing” (249) by explaining the history of her family and how her town got its name. In the end, Ward waits for her brother to give her ride in his car as she proclaims, “I’m here.” (251)