The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake Themes

Aimee Bender



Through The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender suggests that the human experience is characterized largely by emotional pain. Particularly when Rose is a young girl, her power as a “food psychic” is more burden than gift because it gives her access to too many complicated feelings of pain and sadness. Because Lane is the primary cook in Rose’s life, Rose has to struggle early with the realization that someone she loves is sad and then with the subsequent realization that she can do nothing to help. Rose refers to her mother’s food as though it speaks to her, saying:

I am not happy, help me—like a message in a bottle sent in each meal to the eater.... And now my job was to pretend I did not get the message.

Loss of Innocence

Rose’s ability is also a metaphor for the loss of her childish innocence, in part because she realizes that her parents are not all-powerful people who can save her from her problems:

There’s a kind of show a kid can do, for a parent—a show of pain, to try to announce something, and in my crying, in the desperate, blabbering, awful mouth-clawing, I had hoped to get something across. Had it come across, any of it? Nope.

Before she develops her strange ability, Rose is a normal, friendly, immature child. Afterward, she withdraws, becomes more secretive, and loses her ability to communicate well.

The sense that Rose is losing innocence becomes stronger after she realizes her mother is having an affair:

The whole thing was like reading her diary against my will. Many kids, it seemed, would find out that their parents were flawed, messed-up people later in life, and I didn’t appreciate getting to know it all so strong and early.

In spite of this, Rose does not seem angry about the development of the affair. On the contrary, she seems relieved. Although her mother feels guilty about the affair, she is also happier—which makes meals somewhat less unpleasant for Rose.

Emotional Disconnection and Removal

Rose’s ability makes her behave with empathy toward others, but she does not see this as a good quality in...

(The entire section is 951 words.)