When situated anywhere in this world it is common to take in one’s surroundings. In Yi-Fu Tuan’s chapter of “Body, Personal Relations, and Spatial Values,” he writes how one looks at and interprets the space he or she is in. How we interpret the space around us vary widely in that people may come from different cultures and different eras. This leads people to ranked things based on a hierarchy according to where they are placed or what worth they attach to them. However, when interpreting the space around them, one may better understand them by looking at them through someone else’s eyes.
When looking at the space around us we often take into account other people who inhabit the space as well. However, others are not looked as people but bodies, bodies that the human mind classifies as objects. According to Tuan, one is more likely to think that the body is an “it.” Therefore the body is not an animated object but one that just simply an object takes up space in another space. (34) This is seen in John Updike’s “A&P,” where he writes of a cash clerk named Sammy and his escapades with three very distinct customers.
At the beginning of the story we see, through Sammy’s eyes, three girls walk in, all wearing bathing suits who give off a vibe that Sammy seems interested in. Sammy then goes on to explain how each one of them looks in their bathing suit while observing them; his explanations range from chubby, tall, and lastly the girl he can only come up with the word “Queenie” as an explanation. The way he objectifies these three girls only further proves Tuan’s idea of the body not being an animate object but an “it.”
Most of how Sammy tells his story revolves around the girl he calls Queenie. He constantly elaborates on the expression on her face, how she looks in her pink bathing suit and the tan lines that it has made on her body, to the effortless way she wears her hair. (Updike, 17) However, the most important details of his explanations are probably the explanations that are of most minute detail when one at another within a space.
One’s body position is often overlooked when being observed but has a big impact on how one interprets another body. Queenie’s body position obviously makes a big impact on how he perceives her is seen when he comments on how she walks with the emphasis on her heels. (Updike, 17) However, when Sammy elaborates on how she holds her neck extremely high is where we see Tuan’s idea of body position proven. According to Tuan, holding one’s body upright gives off the feeling that one is ready to act. (35) The way Queenie seems to be elongating her body also proves that elevation is synonymous with superiority. ( Tuan 37)
Not only is one’s body position important but where it is situated also contributes to how others look at the person it belongs to. Front and back seem to be the ways in which people look at things around them. However, the ideas of front and back have become a lot less formal over the years. According to Tuan, in traditional China the distinction between front and back were so important that they were marked but in today’s economic society we only carry the notion of front back and often overlook it. (41)
Updike’s story of Sammy and the three girls he encounters both proves and contradicts Tuan’s point of view. While reading Sammy’s explanations it is obvious that Queenie is associated with the front not only by her leading the two other girls through the store but by her appearance. She is depicted as the most striking and therefore “marked” as the front. However, to anyone else, it is also easy to look at them and see Queenie in her position and clearly dismiss the fact that she may have superiority over the two.
The human mind works in way that is forever complex. It is easy to take in our surroundings but to truly understand them is something of a whole other level. Ironically, a better way of trying to understand our surroundings is to look at everything else as an object and dissect what we see into categories that seem mundane and insignificant.
There are many ways in which one can interpret what a space and place are and the differences between them. However, as adults we often take these traits for granted in that our understanding of space and place are well developed. How does a child look at them? In Yi-Fu Tuan’s writing of Space, Place, and the Child, Tuan goes over the most basic ways in which children first recognize a space, then, as they mature learn to recognize a place then learn to generally specify between the two.
Upon first adapting to the world, infants usually associate a space with whatever they may see. They are usually carried and therefore a parent is always nearby and categorized as one. Beyond recognizing the parent as a space infants practice on honing their field of vision which goes no further than 3 feet away from wherever they are. This proves that infants’ vision is not capable of discerning exact objects but familiar shapes and patterns. Aside from recognizing a parent, one of the most common objects that infants learn to recognize is perhaps a bottle. If presented properly to a baby during feeding time it will immediately recognize the bottle and begin to feed where as if presented upside down or backwards will leave the baby confused.
As infants grow they learn to crawl, which results in increased mobility. This allows the infant better ways of exploring a space but this mobility is often limited in that they can be confined by space itself or by fear. A baby’s first mobile exploration of space is often within the confines of their crib. They, first, explore toys and pillows and anything else that they occupy the crib with. They then move on to exploring spaces outside of the crib but how adventurous they are depends on fear. Babies usually do not venture beyond a parent’s reach and often stay away from individuals they do not recognize; the security of a parent and fear of a stranger are instinctual habits learned from mobile exploration.
As infants mature into toddlers they learn to categorize spaces under what is familiar and what is strange. Family members like parents are always classified under familiar and when toys are set in front of them they no longer go for toys that are nearest to them but go for toys that they mostly associate with.
Knowing the difference between here and there is the following process. Children combine the familiar such as a house they live in as “here” whereas they regard school or places they must go to as “there.” This new knowledge, however, is limited only to these two explanations when asking a child between the age six and seven how they are able to get from home to their school they are unable to provide an accurate description. They only regurgitate the fact that home is “here” and school is “there.”
With “here” and “there,” the words “up” and “down” usually begin to make their appearance. Up usually refers to the sky whereas down refers to the floor. One way this can be observed is by asking children how things look from that of an aerial view. They are able to discern that only the tops of their heads are visible from above as well as the layout of their surroundings.
As children perfect the art of what they see around them they begin categorizing certain aspects of their life as places. A child’s mother makes the transition of being a space to a place in that she is a sign of stability. Other than those who provide stability a child’s perception of a place is an object that not only provides stability but also an object that is large and immobile hence a home.
As places become more familiar to a child “here” and “there” usually become “right here” and “right there.” Not only can they now discern what a place is but what they entail as well. For example a House is not just where the child lives but the house often includes a zip code, a town, or a state in its description. Places within the house go from being basic spaces to being described with terms like my room or the kitchen.
The ability to recognize a place then brings on a sense of possessiveness in that children learn to associate with their self worth. It is not that children are deeply attached to the objects they consider theirs but the fact that they feel the need to have certain objects or people closely related to them simply establish who they are as a person.
To a child or an infant space and place are never just two words that describe two different things. They start off being recognized through the most basic instincts and progressively grow and change at different times in an individual’s life. They can also overlap every now and then in that sometimes it is needed to incorporate the latter in one’s definitions. Though they can better be defined with age the differences between space and place are forever changing.