(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The narrator, a middle-aged woman, frames the story with allusions to the lengthy classic novel by Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1931, 1981), that are significant in interpreting the story. She begins with a brief history of her grandmother’s early life as an Irish immigrant. Although she admired her, she never liked her grandmother, a practical, physically imposing woman with a strong work ethic. The narrator recalls two incidents that ocurred when she was ten years old.

The grandmother came to the United States in the late nineteenth century at the age of nineteen and worked as a domestic servant, saving her earnings to pay the passage to the United States for her own mother and six siblings from Ireland. She married a jeweler and gave birth to nine children. The family has always told entertaining stories about their collective past, but the narrator recognizes these as myths; the unpleasant realities of their lives are never discussed. This is a closed world of women, with the men seldom mentioned. These women believe that they must simply get on with life as if unfortunate events had never occurred. The grandmother is the family caretaker; in addition to raising her own nine children, she takes in three of her poverty-stricken sister’s children. The narrator and her mother, destitute and homeless after the death of her father, are also taken in by the grandmother, but as recipients of charity, they are expected to go along with the grandmother’s wishes. They have no part in household decisions and can...

(The entire section is 655 words.)