Study Guide

A Rose in the Heart of New York

by Edna O’Brien

A Rose in the Heart of New York Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“A Rose in the Heart of New York” chronicles several decades in the lives of a rural Irish family, focusing principally on the daughter, who is born in the story’s first scene, and the mother, who is buried in the last. This one turn in the ancient cycle of birth and death constitutes a vivid and moving struggle by both to understand their relationship with each other and with the culture that inevitably shapes them.

If intensity of devotion is a reliable gauge of a happy relationship, then mother and daughter must have been happy indeed. The daughter follows her mother everywhere, watching each of her movements, absorbing her manners and attitudes. The mother dotes on her daughter, sacrificing for her, “spoiling” her as much as their poverty will allow. There is a thin line, however, between healthy devotion and something closer to unnatural obsession, and the reader finds that this line is approached perilously near, if it is not actually crossed.

When the daughter is sent to a convent, she is forced to find some way of living apart from her mother. Her solution to this forced separation is to adopt a nun as a sort of surrogate mother, lavishing her with praise, presents, and devotion and receiving the same in return. That their relationship is unnaturally and unhealthily intense is indicated by the disapproval of the convent superiors. Chastised, the two decide to “break up.” Out of the convent, the daughter’s life is not so...

(The entire section is 499 words.)