What is the tension between the speaker and her mother in “From the House of Yemanjá”?

In “From the House of Yemanjá,” the tension between the speaker and their mother comes from the speaker’s feelings of resentment at the mother’s pressure for perfection. The speaker compares their mother’s parenting to cooking and their own desire for affection to hunger. The mother apparently had unattainable standards of perfection for her daughters, which the speaker calls a hidden daughter. The tension also seems associated with race, as the speaker mentions dark and light women.

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“From the House of Yemanjá” is a poem in which the speaker expresses their sorrow, frustration, and resentment at the way their mother raised her children. The speaker indicates that the mother had very high standards, desiring perfection from her children.

Using metaphors, the speaker associates their need for their mother’s love and approval with food. A metaphor is a direct comparison of unlike things for effect. They state that the mother “cooked her daughters,” refers to hunger three times, and mentions the mother bringing “bread and terror.”

The speaker feels tension because of their mother’s apparent disapproval. Not only judging the actual children, their mother seemed to project an imaginary daughter: “She hid out a perfect daughter / who was not me.”

The tension between the speaker and their mother also stems from the mother’s supposed hypocrisy; she is said to have “two faces.” This identification may also be interpreted as the mother being biracial. The speaker states that they have “two women” on their back; one of them is “dark,” and the other is “ivory” and “pale.” The idea of biracial identity in the child is furthered by the speaker’s plea, “mother I need your blackness now.”

While the speaker’s discussion of womanhood and focus on the daughters implies that the speaker is female, their gender identity is not clearly established. The speaker states, “I have no brothers/ and my sisters are cruel,” but does not say that their mother had no sons.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on February 23, 2021
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