Themes and Meanings
In telling the story of a Mexican American girl who grows up in South Texas and moves to California, Roberta Fernández is replaying her own life story. Whether the events of the story are autobiographical or simply imagined, its themes are universal.
The story focuses on the extremes of experience: plenitude and loss, presence and absence, youth and adulthood. The narrator is privileged to have her encounters with Amanda, to be surrounded by the strength and special powers of older women, including her mother, and to have her moment of epiphany beneath the full moon when she recognized the harmony and perfection of the universe. Because the story leaves childhood behind and ends with the narrator far from Texas on the foggy coast of California, it contains elements of sadness. The cloak has been lost, Texas has been abandoned, and the narrator has not seen Amanda in years, but the narrator’s memory is keen, and her imagination, kindled by Amanda, is still strong. The past may be unretrievable in reality, but in memory and in storytelling it endures and has power.
Amanda is the narrator’s first hero as an artist, the first creator to inspire the narrator to imagine a world separate from the prosaic world of logic and practicality. The story begins: “Transformation was definitely her specialty”—precisely what the artist must learn in order to be successful. Amanda teaches the narrator how to create, transform, believe in the world of the senses mixed with imagination. It is crucial for this artist, this narrator, that the teacher is a woman because Fernández’s search as a writer has been for a feminist aesthetic. The larger work of which “Amanda” is a part, Intaglio: A Novel in Six Stories (1990), presents a narrator who, according to critic Nicolás Kanellos, is “trying to piece together her own adult identity by remembering the women who most influenced her.” Amanda’s genuine love for the narrator is expressed in the cape that she pieces together from cat fur and chicken feathers, and the narrator’s love for Amanda is pieced together out of the memories she has stored away over the years.