Style and Technique
“My Mother,” which begins with the narrator wishing her mother dead and then immediately regretting it, is the story of the growing sense of competition between the mother and daughter. It is written in a richly textured prose that aims to reveal emotional truth rather than to tell a conventional story.
Because of its densely lyrical and impressionistic prose, as well as its avoidance of conventional narrative, “My Mother” is likely to challenge a reader’s expectations of what constitutes a short story. The strikingly original style of “My Mother” is likely to be what a reader first notices about the story. Although the separate vignettes are narrative in nature, perhaps the easiest way to approach each scene is as a densely composed fable, operating primarily on a figurative level, as opposed to a literal one. Rather than describe childhood experiences, Jamaica Kincaid creates lyrical images that evoke the feelings of being a child.
A careful reader of “My Mother” understands the basic story of intimacy and separation between the mother and daughter. Specific details of actions are hard to come by, though, because of the impressionistic style of writing. The strengths of Kincaid’s writing are the emotional honesty it conveys, as well as the great compression that captures the emotional life of a relationship in only a few pages.
Shortly after publishing At the Bottom of the River, Kincaid also published Annie John, a novel of several closely linked short stories that, taken together, trace the course of a mother/daughter relationship in Antigua. Although the prose style in Annie John (1985) remains impressionistic and sensitive, the stories employ conventional narrative, and it is often recommended that the two works be read as companion pieces. The stories in Annie John try to reveal the inner life of its main character by observing her actions and thoughts, as is the more common narrative practice. “My Mother” and many of the other stories in At the Bottom of the River approach character from the inside out, by building vivid pictures of feelings. The images in “My Mother” are direct appeals to the heart, which have to be comprehended emotionally before they can be approached intellectually.