Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1605
In this portrait of Kincaid’s mother, there’s one central and shocking truth that Kincaid revisits many times: ‘‘my mother hates her children.’’ In an interview in the Boston Globe, Kincaid said, ‘‘Mother loves us best when we are dying. We need her. It’s when we’re walking around that she’s critical of us. When we’re thriving.’’ In an interview in Salon Kincaid says that the core of her novel The Autobiography of My Mother is ‘‘drawn from an observation I’ve about my own mother: That all her children are quite happy to have been born, but all of us are quite sure she should never have been a mother.’’
Capable of deep maternal devotion, Annie Drew cares for Devon tirelessly and with great tenderness when he is ill. Likewise, Kincaid recalls that when she was a child with a clogged nose, her mother would suck the mucus from her nostrils, and, when eating felt too tiring, her mother would chew her daughter’s food and then return it to her mouth. Drew possesses the traits of a maternal woman; she is a gardener with a knack for growing all sorts of vegetables and herbs.
Although occasionally kind, Annie Drew’s cruelty is what strikes the reader most forcefully. When Kincaid is struggling to become a writer in New York City, her mother’s words are typically harsh: ‘‘It serves you right, you are always trying to do things you know you can’t do.’’ Not only is she capable of blistering cruelty, but Annie Drew is a woman who refuses to apologize for her actions, nor will she ever subordinate herself to anyone. Kincaid’s brothers live with their mother, not vice versa, because she would never allow herself to be in the position of living with anyone. Drew has so enraged her grown children that neither Jamaica nor Dalma, who lives with his mother, will eat any food she’s prepared. Dalma and Devon until he becomes ill refuse to call Annie Drew ‘‘mother,’’ instead calling her ‘‘Mrs. Drew.’’ Dalma believes his mother is evil and will not speak to her. Once when Joseph, the oldest of the three brothers, dated a woman against his mother’s wishes, Annie Drew was so furious that she threw stones at him. When Kincaid returns to Antigua after having spent twenty years distancing herself from her family, she looks at a soursop tree that is now nothing more than a charred trunk. Kincaid’s mother says that the tree became the home of a colony of parasitic insects and to rid herself of the insects, she burned down the tree. Kincaid attributes this easy way with destruction to her mother’s powerful sense of herself. She sees her mother as a tyrant. ‘‘It’s possible that in another kind of circumstance the shape of the world might have been altered by her presence. But this woman, my mother, had only four people to make into human beings.’’
Dalma is the middle brother, and he is eleven years younger than Kincaid. In contrast to Devon, who was careless with his life and health, Dalma is industrious. At the time of Devon’s death, Dalma held down three jobs: accountant, peddler of imported foods, and bass steel-drum player in the most prominent steel band in Antigua. Yet for all his hard work, Dalma must live with his mother, a woman whom he describes as evil and to whom he no longer speaks. He refuses to eat anything his mother has cooked, and he refers to her as ‘‘Mrs. Drew,’’ not ‘‘mother.’’
Born at home on May 5, 1962, Devon Drew was intelligent, well-read, athletic, and deeply troubled. Kincaid is frank about his shortcomings. At age fourteen, Devon was involved in a gas station robbery in which the attendant was murdered; Devon testified against his friends, and his mother used her political connections to reduce his sentence, but he still spent time in jail. As an...
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