Themes and Meanings
The overriding thematic concern of the stories in At the Bottom of the River is the pain of separation from a mother for a young girl growing up. “Holidays” and “The Letter from Home” both seem to speak of a temporary separation or vacation of the girl from her mother, a separation that proves to be a first attempt at adulthood from which a return to childhood becomes impossible. In “What I Have Been Doing Lately,” the daughter no longer feels herself to be a perfect extension of her mother; rather, the mother now is a demanding presence who makes life hard for the daughter. In “Blackness,” the peace of darkness and nighttime that is evoked so beautifully in “In the Dark” has become predatory and threatens to drag the daughter into an emotional chasm. The mother, looking on, is separate enough from her daughter to not see her as suffering serious problems, but she is also separate enough to see a strength in the daughter of which the daughter may not be aware.
The story “My Mother” in some ways encapsulates the main themes of the book, in that the mother and daughter are presented as in constant competition. At the end of the first section of this story, the narrator describes herself and her mother watching each other warily and being careful to flatter one another, because a poisonous lake now exists between them; if they are not careful, they may hurt one another. At one point, the daughter tries to distinguish her own...
(The entire section is 496 words.)