The Autobiography Of My Mother By Jamaica Kincaid

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The Autobiography of my Mother by Jamaica Kincaid

The heavy layers of irony and the problematic title will not seem too surprising to longtime readers of Jamaica Kincaid. Since her debut collection of short stories, At the Bottom of the River that (1983), she has made a literary career out of mining the relationship between a mother and a daughter for every bit of irony and pathos it can offer. If her fiction has been narrow in its focus, it has also penetrated deeply (Edwards 72).

Similarly, the novel was received by the popular press as a welcome expansion of the mother-daughter theme in the author's work. Where her earlier works had been focused intensely on the relationship between two individuals, The Autobiography of My Mother was seen as engaging in a broader social construction of the relationship.

After their initial encounter, it begins to rain heavily, and Xuela goes into an apparent depression that she reveals to the reader her name, and she does so in a roundabout way, asking herself about the various sources of her full name, Xuela Claudette Richardson: “Who are these people?” “Your own name,” she asserts, “eventually was not the gateway to who you really were.” (Davies 85) In part this is a comment on the confusing and contradictory threads that a colonial identity must coordinate: Each of her names represents a different cultural heritage. In part, though, it shows her backing into an almost God-like statement of existence as pure will: She is that she is.

Since Xuela never knew her mother, and since her father is a distant figure in her life, her efforts to tell her mother's story require her to tell her own story, beginning with her father depositing her to be cared for by his laundress, as if she were another bundle of dirty clothes. The laundress has no more warmth for Xuela than she has for her own children. Like others who live in poverty in Dominica, she faces a constant battle for survival, with no time for loving relationships.

As Xuela begins school, some themes emerge that color her life. One is an image of her mother descending a ladder to her; in the vision, Xuela can see only her mother's heels, although gradually she creates a picture of the whole woman in her imagination and at last imagines an entire history for her. At the same time, Xuela begins to think ...
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