This theme dominates the first chapter, The Hurting. As the speaker relates her personal experiences as a victim and survivor of child abuse, the reader begins to understand the devastating effects it has had on her psyche and her relationships with men—particularly her father. It quickly becomes clear that the abuse is not merely physical and that her abusers are manipulating her emotionally. One of them expects her to enjoy the sexual abuse. Another tells her to shut up and keep all her opinions to herself. All of the men teach her that women are supposed to be less than men, in their opinion. This ties in with the theme of gender.
One of the most important themes in this collection is the theme of gender. Kaur writes mainly from the point of view of a straight woman who has been taught to believe in the gender binary and in traditional gender roles. She has come to understand that men in general like to subjugate women, to think of them as sexual objects and use them as entertainment. In her experience, women aren't safe, and young women have to struggle to protect their bodies. Later in life, she meets men who are kind and begins to reshape her idea of masculinity. More importantly, she refines her definition of what it means to be a woman.
"i've had sex she said
but i don't know
what making love
This distinction is an important one. It emphasizes that sexual abuse is never a product of love—no matter what the abuser says—and that sex should be a consensual act that all parties enjoy. Both the physical act of love and the emotional state of being in love are complicated for the speaker, thanks to her childhood sexual abuse. Before she can love another, she must learn to love herself. To do so, she must separate sex from violence enough to understand...
(The entire section is 512 words.)