The narrator, who lives in New York City and visits Barbados with her mother and sister when she is 9, immediately gets locked into a kind of competition with her fearsome grandmother, Da-duh. When her grandmother pronounces her "fierce," the narrator thinks, "After all I had won the encounter. Da-duh had recognized my small strength—and this was all I ever asked of the adults in my life then." The narrator delights in the competition that she expects to have with her grandmother.
Da-duh shows the narrator her fruit orchards, and she asks the narrator if there is anything as nice in New York. The narrator must sadly admit that there isn't, and the narrator feels bereft and thinks, "My world did seem suddenly lacking." To best her grandmother, the narrator tells her grandmother some tall tales about snow higher than one's head in New York. The narrator then tries to best her grandmother with tales of the city: "But as I answered, recreating my towering world of steel and concrete and machines for her, building the city out of words, I would feel her give way." The narrator feels that she can best the grandmother by proving the mechanical might of the city. In an ironic twist, the grandmother dies after the narrator has left Barbados when England flies loud planes over Barbados (then one of its colonies) in a show of force. The display of the motorized might of the empire has literally caused Da-duh to die of fright.
The conflict between the narrator and her grandmother is about the power of the land in Barbados and its natural delights (which the grandmother celebrates) and the power the narrator celebrates of New York and urban life, in which machines and material goods hold sway. The grandmother believes that the traditional life of Barbados is more worthy, but the granddaughter, in her childish way, defends the life she has become accustomed to in New York. It is ultimately the power of the mechanized world that kills the grandmother, and the granddaughter remains forever guilty as a result.