Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

A daughter, in characteristic teenage fashion, is wary of her mother and yet wants her acceptance. The distance that grows between them is portrayed several times in intensely lyrical images. For example, after her breasts develop, she says, “Between my mother and me now were the tears I had cried, and I gathered up some stones and banked them in so that they formed a small pond” of thick black liquid in which only invertebrates can live. She and her mother now watch each other cautiously, making sure to shower each other with artificial words of love.

The story moves from lyric image to lyric image, each scene embodying the problematic intimacy between them. The narrator describes herself and her mother on her mother’s bed in a room lit by candles. Their shadows dance in the flickering candlelight, but a distance remains between them.

Many of the story’s images illustrate not only the growing sense of confidence and ability that the daughter feels for herself, but also her longing for the days when she was closer to and more reliant on her mother. In one scene, the daughter turns to her mother for sympathy, but when her mother reaches out to rub her head, the daughter steps aside, roars with self-confidence, but then lets out a self-pitying whine. She is unable to completely accept or reject her mother’s intimacy.

In another scene, the mother transforms herself into a lizardlike creature that crawls on its belly, and she instructs the daughter to do the same herself. Elsewhere, the daughter transforms herself into a lamblike creature. When the mother notes how cross she looks, the daughter builds a trap for her mother by building a house over a hole and inviting her mother to inspect it. When the mother walks in and out without falling, the daughter burns the home and fills in the hole.

The story returns to the image of the pond of invertebrates the narrator created with her tears. She sees herself as big now, but her mother as three times her size. She and her mother build houses on opposite sides of this pond, expressing both their connection and the distance between them. The daughter not only cries for the lack of closeness between them but also wears herself out with anger at her mother.

At the end, the mother packs the girl’s things in a bag and sends her on a voyage, apparently to Great Britain for schooling. The physical separation between mother and daughter in fact leads to a renewed intimacy; when the girl arrives, she meets a woman who looks exactly like her mother, and she unites herself with this woman. Later, she describes herself as living in the same house with her mother, eating from the same bowl, and fitting “perfectly in the crook of my mother’s arm.” As they walk through the rooms, she says, “we merge and separate, merge and separate; soon we shall enter the final stage of our evolution.” The temporary harmony between them is passing and illusory, quite likely the sense of similarity and intimacy born of a physical separation between them.

At the end, the girl imagines her mother as a goddess figure who has ensured the bounty of the sea for local fishermen. She herself is a grown young woman; she has perfumed herself with the blossoms from lime trees, and she has a woman’s womb, which she describes as a nest a hummingbird built on her stomach. She and her mother have lived this way for a long time now, she says, but it is clear that this regression to the bliss of early childhood is the girl’s fantasy of a temporary merging. Although the ending is ambiguous, it is entirely likely that the girl is now essentially separate from her mother, but closer to her in that she sees her mother everywhere in the world around her.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access