As in Jamaica Kincaid’s other fiction, the themes of The Autobiography of My Mother explore what happens to a young woman who grows up in a loveless household, in this case the child of a mother who died at her birth. Intermingled with Xuela’s immediate story is the story of the Caribbean island of Dominica, a land that once lived under the cold stepparent of colonial rule.
Since Xuela never knew her mother, and since her father is a distant figure in her life, her efforts to tell her mother’s story require her to tell her own story, beginning with her father depositing her to be cared for by his laundress, as if she were another bundle of dirty clothes. The laundress has no more warmth for Xuela than she has for her own children. Like others who live in poverty in Dominica, she faces a constant battle for survival, with no time for loving relationships.
As Xuela begins school, some themes emerge that color her life. One is an image of her mother descending a ladder to her; in the vision, Xuela can see only her mother’s heels, although gradually she creates a picture of the whole woman in her imagination and at last imagines an entire history for her. At the same time, Xuela begins to think about her father, a remote man who visits her only occasionally, a policeman whose life seems to suggest the possibilities of power. Already the child is beginning to understand the value in being able to make others do what she wants....
(The entire section is 533 words.)