The Magnolia Literacy Project
Natalie Dickens "Smiling"
Updated: Jun 25, 2022
A homeschooled, high school senior from Brandon, Mississippi, Natalie Dickens draws attention to the need for more critical engagement between adults and young people.
In "Smiling", Dickens addresses what she sees as oversimplified, dismissive messages sent to young people about how they should respond to life's challenges. This disconnect motivated her to write "Smiling".
Dickens uses two key rhetorical strategies to underscore her central point. Through time references, she captures various degrees of internal confusion adolescents often experience. She also uses "teeth" as a metaphor for voice, individuality, and originality.
According to Dickens, "In a culture of 'smiling' and 'going along with', people lose their voice and everything that makes them who they are when they're expected to accept what should be challenged."
The sun reaches through my window to caress my cheek.
Outside, the birds sing songs so sweet.
I plant my feet on the carpet beneath and shuffle to the mirror to gaze at my teeth.
The sun still burns bright, but birds are now gone.
I sit at my window still humming their song.
I can hear cheerful voices singing along.
Their harmony is flat, but my rhythm is strong.
So who am I to tell them they’re wrong?
I sit back and smile.
We sing for a while,
as the sun begins to set.
The night is cold, and the sun has set
As I return to bed. I notice the voices haven’t left.
I’ve no clue what to do and don’t want to be rude.
I smile and wish them goodnight.
The room is dark, and my body is weak.
I’m down on my knees; they stand on their feet.
An unknown figure with a hollow physique
Extends a hand and caresses my cheek.
When they lift my head up and command me to speak,
I open my mouth and let out a shriek.
An odd observation: my smile remains,
though my muscles contort, pulsing in pain.
When the figure is gone, I stand to my feet,
dropping my head to the carpet beneath.
Then, what they had stolen was apparent to me.
Dispersed on the carpet was a red trail of my teeth.
I should have expelled the voices from my head,
But I’ll stay quiet and wait for sunrise instead.
It was quite ironic to force me to speak.
There’s not much I can say when you’ve taken my teeth.
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