Themes

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 970

Anger
Anger is a recurring theme in both Kincaid’s feelings toward her family and toward Antigua, the country of her birth. Kincaid reflects on her own anger, admitting that anger often manifests itself in small transactions. When Devon asks Kincaid to go for a walk alone with him, she suspects that he’ll ask her for something of hers and that she’ll resent the request. She remembers how Devon had once asked her for the khaki shorts she was wearing and can articulate why the request annoyed her: ‘‘I did not like giving them to him at all. I did not want them back, I wanted not to have had to give them in the first place.’’

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In Kincaid’s family, quarreling is a way of life. One family member often stops talking to another, and these angry silences take on a life of their own. At one point, Kincaid identifies her own mother as ‘‘his mother,’’ meaning Devon’s mother, noting that ‘‘she is my mother, too, but I wasn’t talking to her then, and when I am not talking to her, she is someone else’s mother, not mine.’’ After Devon temporarily recovers, she remembers, ‘‘He and my mother had huge quarrels and unforgivable things were said, but after the quarrels were over, they would both feel that everything said had not really been meant.’’ Anger has its own rules in Kincaid’s family, and people who have done and said terrible things can also be unexpectedly loving.

Mothers and Motherhood
Closely linked to the theme of anger are issues of mothering and its aftereffects. Kincaid says that the extraordinary thing about her mother’s love for her children is its ability ‘‘to turn into a weapon for their destruction.’’ Critics have observed that Kincaid’s fascination with mother-daughter relationships stems from her preoccupation with colonialism, which is essentially the coercive and quasiparental relationship of one nation toward another. In A Small Place, Kincaid spoke of the English people who colonized Antigua in terms that would also have described her mother’s parenting style: ‘‘no natural disaster imaginable could equal the harm they did.’’

Although Kincaid is unequivocal in her harsh portrayal of her mother, she understands that the role of mother must almost, by definition, inspire negative feelings from time to time. Kincaid talks about how her son loves her and hates her, and how this is necessary and right: ‘‘This state of profound contradiction, loving me and hating me, is what will be for the rest of his life, if I am a good mother to him. This is the best that it can be. If I should fail him—and I very well might, the prime example I have is not a good one—he will experience something everlastingly bitter and awful: I know this, the taste of this awfulness, this bitterness, is in my mouth every day.’’

Gardening
Gardening is one link connecting Kincaid with her mother. Kincaid recognizes that her own love of gardening, as does Devon’s, springs from her mother. ‘‘What would my brother say were he to be asked how he became interested in growing things? He saw our mother doing it. What else?’’

Throughout, gardening is Kincaid’s metaphor for nurturing. When she talks of Freeston, the Antiguan who openly acknowledges that he has AIDS, the harmony of his family is apparent in the flourishing houseplants: ‘‘he lived with [his mother] in a house with a beautiful garden full of zinnias and cosmos and some impatiens and all sorts of shrubs with glossy and variegated leaves.’’ Yet the gardening metaphor is most effective and poignant when Kincaid uses it to describe Devon: ‘‘in his life there had been no flowering, his life was the opposite...

(The entire section contains 970 words.)

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