Self-Reinvention in San Francisco

Running from the past for most people is a challenge that could interfere with an individual’s future plans. In the book Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, the author explores the theme of reinvention in San Francisco In a manner that resonates with the current society. The opening remark from the book is a quote from Oscar Wilde and it states “It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco.” (Maupin 24) From the remark, it can be concluded that San Francisco or Americans is a place to start over and runaway from a past that could be shameful or disappointing. The author presents the characters as individuals longing to start new lives in a town that offers second chances. The book triggers the question about the culture of the city of San Francisco that draws all the characters and compels them to reinvent themselves. The theme on San Francisco and reinvention follows the lives of central characters in the book from their origin to how they strive to reinvent themselves. This paper seeks to discover reasons for choosing San Francisco and how the past secretes of the characters factor into their struggle to reinvent themselves. Self-reinvention can be challenging and the author uses the stories of the main characters to explore the subject in a manner that individuals in the contemporary world relate to from a personal point of view.

The origin of the characters is fascinating because the author uses their origin as a base for their struggle to reinvent their lives. The life of Mary Ann Singleton is presented as one of a naïve secretary from Midwestern Cleveland. She plans and goes on vacation to San Francisco and she decides to stay in the city. She breaks her decision to stay news to her mother via the phone and asks her high school friend known as Connie to take her in as she settles down. Her comment “Jesus Christ, you people are complicated” (Maupin 42) Confirms her naivety. Considering that the author describes Mary Ann Singleton as naive, her journey to self-discovery and reinvention is intriguing since she walks into a new lifestyle in terms of culture in San Francisco. She secures an apartment on 28 Barbary and her San Francisco life begins. Mona Ramsey another character in the narrative becomes one of Mary Ann’s neighbors. The narrator explains Mona to be restless and melancholic; attributes that make her self-righteous and ultimately gets her fired from her job. She comments “We’re gonna be … I mean people like you and me … we’re gonna be fifty-year-old libertines in a world full of twenty-year-old Calvinists.” (Maupin 102) Her old life catches up with her as her old friend Michael that happens to be gay and separated from his lovers. She also gets a call from her lover D’orothea Wilson to rekindle their love affair. From the narrator’s point of view, Mona is a solid San Francisco woman that knows her way around the lifestyle unlike Mary Ann who is from Midwestern Cleveland. The author purposely connects Mary Ann and Mona to depict the different origins or backgrounds of the characters who are striving to reinvent their lives after making crucial life changing decisions. Michael, Mona and Mary Ann become close and build a friendship that spans over to affect their love lives. Mary Ann secures a job as a secretary in a company where Mona lost her job. She is seduced into a relationship with a coworker who happens to be married to her boss’ daughter.


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Another character of interest in the book is Michael Trolliver also known as Mouse is Mona’s gay friend who moves in with her after breaking up with his lover. The author describes him to be romantic and confident. He has recently admitted to be gay and strikes accord with Mary from the get go. From the story, it is revealed that Michael is from a conservative background making it obvious why he and Mary Ann become close. They both identify with the conservative life and the need to break free an aspect that San Francisco lifestyle seems to be fulfilling in their lives. Michael begins a new sexual relationship with Jon Fielding who is a gynecologist. He comment, “Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility” (Maupin 89) Mouse also becomes entangle in a mysterious relationship with Brian Hawkins who happens to be an acquaintance of Mar Ann’s from their switchboard volunteering program. Although their relationship is unlikely seeing as Michael is romantic and Brian is a womanizer who could be described as a marijuana junky.

Brian is a former lawyer who currently works as a waiter and spends his time running after women. He is also a tenant on 28 Barbary an aspect that connects the main characters. “Brian’s face turned pouty. “So you were just blowing smoke up my ass.” (Maupin 209) The book does not give a clear origin of Brian’s character which makes the reader assume that Brian is from San Francisco. His character shows the unlikely support and friendships that can be developed in a world where individuals are aggressive and unconscious to the conservative lifestyle. Such is seen when Brian becomes the leaning shoulder for Mar Ann when one of their switchboard volunteers commits suicide. Additionally, Brian develops a friendship with Mouse despite their differences. The apartments 28 Barbary are owned by an unconventional free-spirited lady called Anna Madrigal. She is portrayed as a kind hearted woman that develops maternal relationships with both Mary Ann and Mona. She is the epitome of sexually conscience individuals since she does not shy from the topic and goes on to be Edgar Halcyon’s mistress. In addition, she encourages Mary Ann to embrace relationships.

The narrative explores the self-reinvention journeys of the five central characters in the book. Focusing on Mary Ann, she is the naïve conservative woman from Cleveland who comes to San Francisco for an eight day vacation but decides to stay. Considering her decision the author shows that she was unfulfilled and her vacation was a break from her routine life. Her five day experience of San Francisco makes her belief she can start over and reinvent her life in the new city. She lives with her high school temporarily and finds a house at 28 Barbary where she develops friendships with her neighbors and landlady. Her conservative nature is revealed when she says, “I’m not sure I even need a lover, male or female. Sometimes I think I’d settle for five good friends.” (Maupin 78) Mary Ann’s reinvention is achieved through her breaking off from the conservative lifestyle as she embraces the free and liberal San Francisco. She makes friends with a gay man, a marijuana smoker and get into a relationship with a married man.

Michael whose origin is more or less the same as Mary Ann’s breaks from his confined world as he moves in with his old friend Mona in San Francisco. His break up from his lover can be assumed to be a signal that he needed a new start and San Francisco became his stop. He forges a friendship with Mary Ann and Brian since they live in the same apartment. His closeness to Brian Hawkins is mysterious and marks the reinvention of Michael intriguing considering they have little in common. Michael’s sexual life is also reinvented as he establishes a sexual relationship with Jon Fielding. His relationship is not secrete since he has recently admitted to being gay an aspect that reinforces his reinvention phase. The former is evident in his comment,

“Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength. It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here.” (Maupin 89)

Brian Hawkins is explained to be an ex-lawyer currently working as a waiter. From a lawyer to a waiter Brian is undergoing a change that propels him to reinvent himself. Unlike the case of Michael and Mary Ann who are new to the lifestyle in San Francisco, Brian seems to know his way around the lifestyle and the narrator describes him as a womanizer. He says, “The worst of times in San Francisco was still better than the best of times anywhere else.” (Maupin 240) However, he becomes the strength that Mary needs when one of their colleagues commits suicide. Despite his evident moral shortcomings, he is kind to volunteer at the switchboard.  On the other hand, Mona Ramsey is presented as the restless, passionate individual in the group of friends at the apartments. She is aggressive and fits in the San Francisco way of life compared to Mary Ann and her friend Michael. That being said, her past follows her when her ex-lover asks her to rekindle their affair. She moves out to start her love life a situation that compels her to reinvent herself in a manner that makes her vulnerable. It is safe to conclude that her reunion with her lover melts down her aggression and her vulnerable self is revealed. Another aggressive character is Anna Madrigal the landlady of 28 Barbary. Anna is open-hearted and eccentric considering the manner that she talks to both Mona and Mar Ann. She is aggressive with Mona and advices Mary to have a relationship. During one of their conversations, she states,

“Oh, Mona, we’re all damned fools! Some of us just have more fun with it than others. Loosen up, dear! Don’t be so afraid to cry . . . or laugh, for that matter. Laugh all you want and cry all you want and whistle at pretty men in the street and to hell with anybody who thinks you’re a damned fool!” (Maupin 340).

Additionally, she gets into a love affair with a married man. Anna has secreted from her past that she seeks to hide from her lover since they jeopardize their relationship.

In conclusion reinvention as displayed in the narrative is a crucial stage in life. The characters represent different generations that are affected by similar issues when it comes to reinvention. San Francisco is a symbolic landmark that depicts a place where people of all personalities can find their place and reinvent themselves without being judged. The characters seem to be turning to new chapters in their lives be it sexually, personally or in terms of their careers. Reinvention is a theme that resonates with the contemporary society where individuals may feel a need to leave there initial places of residence, their lovers, their jobs or their lifestyle in order to reinvent themselves.

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