Themes and Meanings

Mona Simpson’s twist on the conventional loss-of-innocence or coming-of-age theme not only focuses on this experience from a first-person female perspective but also shows the young woman who is telling the story struggling with being as calculating, manipulative, and pathological as the adult world that caused her loss of innocence. The story dramatizes the psychological complexes that can occur when sexual taboos are violated as a matter of course, and paints such an accurate slice of middle-class life that the reader is hard put to keep such ramifications of violating those taboos at a safe distance. Simpson relentlessly traces the effects of self-absorbed parents on daughters who are caught in circumstances that force them to grow up too fast, and who become disillusioned with and wistful about the values and safety of growing up in a middle-class nuclear family.

Jenny’s resulting emotional reality becomes a kind of gamesmanship designed to keep the outside world in check. The conventional treatment, of emphasizing the loss of innocence, is radically transformed into an emphasis on seeing whatever happens merely as something that has happened, and going on from there. The resulting paradox of wanting to get on with life at the same time that the present is a creation of past violations is simultaneously heartbreaking, unromanticized, authentic, and compelling.