Zadie Smith

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Why does Martha visit Pam in "Martha, Martha"?

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In Zadie Smith's short story "Martha, Martha," Martha visits Pam because Pam is a real estate agent and Martha is looking for an apartment to rent.

Martha has recently come to the United States from England, where she grew up. She is staying in a hotel, but that is far too expensive for a long-term arrangement, and she wants to find a permanent place to live right away. Martha writes a letter to Pam and then goes to meet Pam at her office. At first, though, she doesn't enter. Pam sees her through the window. Martha walks away. Perhaps she is lost (or thinks she is), or perhaps she is hesitant about getting an apartment.

When Martha returns, she tells Pam about her many dreams. She wants to go to the university some day. She wants to learn about classical music. She wants to have books. It seems that Martha has a strong desire to improve her life, yet she seems to be floating as she looks at the apartments Pam shows her.

At the final place Martha tours, however, she goes to look around and then pulls a photograph out of her coat pocket and starts to cry. The photograph of a young man and a little boy is accompanied by a poem to Martha describing the love of these two for her. We do not know what has happened to the man and the little boy, but we know that they are certainly no longer with Martha and that she grieves their absence. Perhaps they are dead. Maybe this is why Martha is trying to start a new life. Martha ends the apartment hunt for the day, too upset to look any more, and Pam sees her walk away in the snow.

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