Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

There is little in the way of traditional plot in The Autobiography of My Mother, and it is questionable whether the novel’s major problem, Xuela’s inability to connect with others, has been resolved by the end. Instead of plot, Kincaid utilizes genre, metaphor, and characterization to convey the novel’s concern with the inescapability of the colonial past and the oppressive nature of female social roles. In presenting a novel as an autobiography and the self as other, the novel’s title centralizes concepts such as interconnection, multiple perspectives, and porous boundaries—all of which are closely associated with the experiences of postcolonial peoples. Further, Xuela’s experience can easily be understood as a metaphor for the subjectivity of colonized people as a group, since they too have historically been separated from intact sources of cultural nurturing. Finally, Xuela’s continual conflicts with potential mother figures in the novel helps convey the author’s rejection of women who accept social limitations on sexual, financial, or social autonomy.