(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Mimicking the traditional Bildungsroman, in which a young man must leave home to find his own identity, Anywhere but Here focuses on this theme in a parallel examination of Adele’s escape from small-town, midwestern living in Bay City, Wisconsin, and Ann’s eventual escape from her mother’s manipulative way of living vicariously through her daughter. Yet the book is remarkably more substantial than this simple theme because Mona Simpson provides her readers with a perspective parallel to the traditional American leave-home-to-find-success ideal—that of Lillian and Carol, who stay in Bay City to live out their lives, lives that are no less intricate or successful than those of Adele and Ann.

By combining these parallel views of escaping from home and remaining there, Simpson emphasizes the familial ties that bind human beings, especially those of mother-daughter relationships. Even though Adele moves half a continent away from home, the life that she lived in Bay City remains the marker she uses to measure the success of her life—the further she manages to remove herself from what she sees as working-class conditions, the more successful she feels. Simpson manages to point out the fact that Adele’s ideals are very similar to those of millions of other Americans who see life as a quest for the American Dream—a dream that changes, notably, with each generation, as seen in the differences between the dreams of Lillian, Carol, Adele, and Ann.

Lillian, like Carol, expresses the importance of family several times in her narrative, remarking about the closeness of her mother’s sisters and the intense affection, which was an almost incestuous one like Adele and Ann’s relationship, between her mother and her brother, Milton. Lillian, advanced in years when she speaks to Ann, relates several instances of how she or other family members took the rest of their family for granted, such as the time her husband died and Adele would not come home from college. Yet Lillian, like the other three women in the novel, was never very close to her own mother.

The near incestuousness in the mother-child relationships causes tensions within both the...

(The entire section is 897 words.)