Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The arrangement of the stories in a sequence based on the ages of the seven protagonists, starting with young Kelly and ending with the elderly Alice, suggests a sweeping consideration of the whole span of womanhood in adversity, from childhood to the grave.

The social theme which emerges with the greatest force is the idea of women as victims—victims of poverty, ignorance, cramped housing conditions and male aggression and abandonment. Kelly and Lisa are the direct victims of male sexual aggression, but it becomes clear through various conversations and recollections that many of the other women have also suffered beatings and rape. Iris’ father had beaten her unmercifully during her childhood.

Gossip has it that both Lilian and Joss owe their disabilities to incestuous parenthood, and there are hints of other instances of incest. The women are also victims of their own ignorance and fear about sexual matters and a socially imposed guilt in relation to their own physical drives. Pregnant young women are frightened of their mothers’ reactions. Iris’ fierce response to her daughter’s pregnancy is partly shaped by fear of what the neighbors will say. Joanne’s rueful rejection of a possible loving relationship with Joss, with whom she feels very comfortable, is based on fear of what her workmates would say about her association with a midget.

Prejudice fostered by ignorance and by fear of straying from a perceived...

(The entire section is 429 words.)