The Autobiography of My Mother

by Jamaica Kincaid

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The Characters

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Xuela, as the novel’s primary narrative voice and interpretive filter, restricts readers’ access to the subjectivity of other characters. Her tendency to contradict herself and her obvious victimization raise questions about the veracity of her narration. These questions represent Kincaid’s concern with the lack of fixity and “truth” in the postcolonial context. In this regard, Xuela’s characterization contributes to the development of the theme of postcolonial identity.

Though her mother appears only as a partial vision in Xuela’s dreams, that presence provides an important counterbalance to Xuela’s father and that which he represents. Xuela perceives her mother’s Carib cultural heritage as a source of alternative identification and connection, whereas her father’s African and European heritage is closely associated with a hostile, patriarchal social order.

Alfred functions as an agent of Xuela’s alienation, especially in terms of her experience as a woman. He is associated with patriarchal authority through his occupation as a policeman and through his acceptance of a system of colonial hierarchy and corruption. Much attention is paid to his uniform as well as the fact that his wealth derives from extortion and exploitation of the poorer inhabitants of Dominica.

The other women in the text function primarily as types that help readers understand the social positions available to women in colonial cultures. Ma Eunice, for instance, symbolizes the costs that can be associated with female sexual autonomy in her struggle to raise several children as a laundress. Providing a sharp contrast to Ma Eunice is Mrs. LaBatte, whose gray appearance, lack of vitality, and physical barrenness reveal the self-alienation that can be associated with the more socially acceptable route of marriage.

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Critical Essays