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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615

Daughters examines the personal and political growth associated with Africa’s diaspora in both the United States and the West Indies. Ursa Mackenzie is a nexus of two cultures who is trying to understand both. Part of the upwardly mobile black middle class, Ursa struggles with personal identity and relationships in a context of privilege while other black people are victimized not only by racism but also by their own people’s participation in a corrupt and corrupting political system. Daughters juxtaposes the personal and the political to demonstrate how inextricably connected the two are: Individual achievement cannot come at the cost of the larger African community.

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The novel opens with Ursa’s abortion, which is paralleled later by a back-alley abortion Astral Forde undergoes and is contrasted to Estelle’s many miscarriages. The pregnancy and subsequent abortion is emblematic of Ursa’s ambivalence regarding all aspects of her life—her relationship with Lowell Carruthers; a second master’s degree that she cannot bring to closure; her attitude toward and relationship with her parents, especially her father, and with the island of Triunion; and her career, which has gone from corporate success to freelance political research. She is caught in stasis. She cannot decide.

Ursa’s personal dilemma is twofold. One problem is her relationship with Lowell. Neither is willing to give up independence, to commit completely to each other, to get beyond their Friday evenings, every two weeks, of dinner and sex. There were what Ursa considered “the couple of love years,” but those have long passed. Now Ursa and Lowell meet out of habit, out of the desire not to be completely alone. The novel traces the eventual disintegration of even this minimal connection the two share, when Ursa finally tires of having to listen to Lowell’s incessant complaints about office politics and when Lowell tires of Ursa’s dependence on her father’s love and approval, leaving no room for him.

The novel also follows the political career of Primus Mackenzie, Ursa’s father. That career presents Ursa’s second problem. Primus’s political career began with him hoping to change the quality of the lives of Triunion’s people. In a newly established democracy, with a poor economy dependent on whatever the people could grow, since highways, electricity, and telephones required for factories and industry were lacking, he discovered that progress is nearly impossible. He is opposed by corrupt countrymen who favor the status quo and are propped up by the United States government. Primus’s political party threatens to defeat the ruling party, and Primus tries to become the prime minister. In answer to that threat, an American destroyer points its guns at the island, scaring citizens ever after to accept the leadership in power. Primus capitulates to Western millionaires who want to turn his district into a resort. The resort will provide no jobs for his constituents and will not improve the Morlands district’s economy. The rich will not even have to drive on the bad highway past the children with their distended bellies and no seats in their pants. They will fly into a private airport. The resort is one more example of white capitalist exploitation of people of color, endorsed by their own government. Only by losing the election, subverted by his own wife and daughter, can Primus be stopped in his descent into money and resorts, with the concerns of his people forgotten. This situation is paralleled in New Jersey’s Midland City, where Ursa conducts her follow-up study on local politics only to discover that the people who elected the city’s black mayor were betrayed in favor of white men in suits.

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