Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City


« Mary Ann Singleton was twenty-five years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time. She came to the city alone for an eight-day vacation. On the fifth night, she drank three Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, realized that her Mood Ring was blue, and decided to phone her mother in Cleveland. "Hi, Mom. It's me." "Oh, darling. Your daddy and I were just talking about you. There was this crazy man on McMillan and Wife(1) who was strangling all these secretaries, and I just couldn't help thinking …". "Mom …" "I know. Just crazy ol' Mom, worrying herself sick over nothing. But you can never tell about those things. Look at that poor Patty Hearst(2) locked up in that closet with all those awful …". "Mom … long distance." "Oh … yes. You must be having a grand time." "God … you wouldn't believe it! The people here are so friendly I feel like I've …" "Have you been to the Top of the Mark(3) like I told you?" "Not yet." "Well, don't you dare miss that! You know, your daddy took me there when he got back from the South Pacific. I remember he slipped the bandleader five dollars so we could dance to `Moonlight Serenade', and I spilled Tom Collins(4) all over his beautiful white Navy …" "Mom, I want you to do me a favor." "Of course, darling. Just listen to me. Oh … before I forget it, I ran into Mr Lassiter yesterday at the Ridgemont Mall, and he said the office is just falling apart with you gone. They don't get many good secretaries at Lassiter Fertilizers." "Mom, that's sort of why I called." "Yes, darling?" "I want you to call Mr Lassiter and tell him I won't be in on Monday morning." "Oh … Mary Ann, I'm not sure you should ask for an extension on your vacation." "It's not an extension, Mom." "Well, then why…" "I'm not coming home, Mom." Silence. Then, dimly in the distance, a television voice began to tell Mary Ann's father about the temporary relief of hemorrhoids. Finally, her mother spoke: "Don't be silly, darling." "Mom … I'm not being silly. I like it here. It feels like home already." "Mary Ann, if there's a boy …" "There's no boy … I've thought about this for a long time." "Don't be ridiculous. You've been there five days!" "Mom, I know how you feel, but… well, it's got nothing to do with you and Daddy. I just want to start making my own life … have my own apartment and all." "Oh, that. Well, darling … of course you can. As a matter of fact, your daddy and I thought those new apartments out at Ridgemont might be just perfect for you. They take lots of young people, and they've got a swimming pool and a sauna, and I could make some of those darling curtains like I made for Sonny and Vicki when they got married. You could have all the privacy you …" "You aren't listening, Mom. I'm trying to tell you I'm a grown woman." "Well, act like it, then! You can't just… run away from your family and friends to go live with a bunch of hippies and mass murderers!" "You've been watching too much TV." "OK … then what about The Horoscope?" "What?" "The Horoscope. That crazy man. The killer." "Mom … The Zodiac." "Same difference. And what about … earthquakes? I saw that movie, Mary Ann, and I nearly died when Ava Gardner …" "Will you just call Mr Lassiter for me?" Her mother began to cry. "You won't come back. I just know it." "Mom … please … I will. I promise." "But you won't be … the same!" "No! I hope not." »
Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City, (1978)

Compréhension de l'écrit
1. Where are Mary Ann and her mother, how do they communicate?
2. Where does Mary Ann usually live precisely ? (justify by quoting the text)
3. The location
The scene takes place in the USA. Find in the text the American-English equivalents of the following words :
  • holiday
  • wardrobe
  • shopping centre
  • flat
  • film
The main character
a) Write a sentence about the main character (name, age, job, hometown). (20 words)
b) In which city is she and why?
c) What is the relationship between the main character and Mr. Lassiter?
d) Is she appreciated by him? Justify by quoting from the text.
e) What favor does she want her mother to do for her? (15 words)
The mother
a) Choose four adjectives from the following list and use them in a short paragraph to describe the mother's personality. (50 words)
loving/ over-protective/ bossy/ narrow-minded/ indifferent/ apprehensive/ over-imaginative/ interfering/ down-to-earth/ rational
b) What paradoxical image does the mother have of the city? Use elements from the text to illustrate your answer. (40 words)
The decision.
Focus on the passage from "I want you […]" to the end.
a) What decision has the main character made? (10 words)
b) Pick out three different quotes justifying her decision. Explain in your own words what desires motivated her choice. (40 words)
c) Explain in your own words why the mother begins to cry. Give at least three reasons. (40 words)
Expression écrite
Using your own experience, explain how young people gradually gain independence from their parents. Illustrate with examples. (300 words)
(1)A television program.
(2)The daughter of an American millionaire who was kidnapped in California in 1974.
(3)A well-known rooftop bar in San Francisco offering spectacular views.
(4)A cocktail.


Compréhension de l'écrit
1. Mary Ann is in San Francisco at the Buena Vista and her mother is in Cleveland, they communicate on the phone.
2. She lives at her parents' in Cleveland, I quote: "have my own apartment and all".
The location
  • holiday: vacation
  • wardrobe: closet
  • shopping centre: mall
  • flat: apartment
  • film: movie
The main character
a) The main character's name is Mary Ann Singleton who is twenty-five years old and she is a secretary, she is from Cleveland.
b) She is in San Francisco where she is on holiday for a week.
c) She is one of Mr. Lassiter's employees, she works for him as a secretary.
d) She is clearly appreciated by Mr. Lassiter.
"[…] the office is just falling apart with you gone." .
"They don't get many good secretaries at Lassiter's Fertilizers." .
e) As she has decided she won't come back from San Francisco, she would like her mother to phone the firm and announce Mr. Lassiter she won't go back to work.
The mother
a) The mother really loves her daughter, she seems to be used to calling her darling which shows she is loving. Moreover she is a possessive mother since she wants her daughter to live not far from them, consequently we can say she is both over-protecting and interfering. Eventually, she has a very bad image of San francisco and is prejudiced against that city which she thinks is very dangerous which implies that she is over-imaginative.
b) She seems to have mixed feelings about the city. She has good memories of the city she visited with her husband when she was younger: "[…] your daddy took me there […]" and where she had a good time: "[…] we could dance the `moonlight serenade', […]" . However she is also worried for her daughter who is there because she has clichés in mind about a city which can be dangerous: "[…] a bunch of hippies and mass murderers!" , "And what about … earthquakes?" .
The decision
a) The main character has decided to stay in San Francisco and won't come back.
b) "Mom … I'm not being silly. I like it there. It feels like home already." .
"I just want to start making my own life … have my own apartment and all." .
"[…] I'm trying to tell you I'm a grown woman now." .
The main character seems to be more mature, she is a grown-up now and she has understood that her parents, and more particularly her mother, are too over-protective and she wants them to let her live her life as she wants. She wants to have her independence, to lead her life the way she wants and not the way her parents want her to. For her, being far away from them is the solution to the problem.
c) There are different reasons why the mother begins to cry at the end. First she thought she could make her daughter change her mind, but she has failed. In addition, she is worried and afraid as she has negative images of the city and she thinks it is dangerous for her daughter to stay there, that she may put her life at risks. Eventually, she is frightened because she has the feeling that she won't see her daughter very often and she really understands that she has lost her and that things will never be the same.
Expression écrite
I think that to explain how people gradually gain independence from their parents, we have to consider the period of time when children have become teenagers and when they come of age to become adults. First of all, I would say that it depends on how old children are. Of course when they are young children or young teenagers, it seems quite difficult for them to go against their parents' will which is the necessary phase to become independent. As a consequence they have to impose on them a certain number of things and values children do not necessarily agree with (on account of their age and their thirst to do as they have decided). During their childhood and their youth they usually follow their parents' will even if sometimes they are quite reluctant, but that's how it all starts. Later when they grow older and after, when they come of age, they often try to talk things over with their parents to convince them they are right and should be allowed to do as they want when their decisions do not meet their parents' approval. Most parents always want the best for their children and often think that what they want or say is good for them and tend to refuse their children the right to decide on their own. This can still be true when children have become adults. I think that there comes a time when children should make their own decisions and should go against their parents' will because one has to stand on one's own two feet sooner or later and has to be given the possibility to make his own choices, even if it is sometimes difficult. Parents can't always dictate to their children what they have to do. Parents had better give their children advice and tell them what they should think or shouldn't do but they must let them make the final decision. By gradually giving the possibility to their children to choose, to decide, parents help them to become mature, self-confident and to give them the opportunity to build their own personality and consequently to become independent and adult.