Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Sea Wall presents a compelling critique of colonial capitalism and the ideological means by which people such as Ma are exploited. Deceived by the promises of colonial profiteers, and despite material conditions to the contrary, Ma resists admitting that she is a pawn in a corrupt system. A white colonial, because she is not so abjectly poor as the native servants she employs or entirely bereft of capital, Ma is made an unwitting collaborator in her own exploitation. Capital, in the guise of a diamond ring (which unequivocally refers to its origins in another colonial economy), represents a paradigm of capitalist enterprise from which there is no escape, once one is blinded, as Ma is, by unwavering faith in an insidiously exploitative ideology.

Nevertheless, the narrative is more concerned with examining the ways in which characters are constructed than with theorizing about alternative economic systems. The anxiety of loss, as well as the struggle for separation in relationships between mother and daughter, brother and sister, resounds in the image of a barrier swept away by the engulfing sea, as much as that image also represents the capricious tides of economic adversity. Like the Pacific, Ma is a suffocating, all-pervasive force in her children’s lives, defying them to leave her. For her children to gain identity, the hysterical mother must be rejected—but this rejection institutes a sense of longing for the lost whole of mother and child and is echoed in other relationships.

Suzanne’s incestuous fascination with Joseph is, psychically, a potentially debilitating form in which such a desire is mediated. This desire, when finally translated into sexual desire for another man, heralds Suzanne’s sexual maturity. It also codifies a pattern of displaced desire in adult sexual relationships which can be traced back to the initial mother-child separation.The narrative’s dreamlike offering, without comment or explanation, of suggestive thoughts or emotions emphasizes the construction of sexual desire through pre-Oedipal longing and memory.