Themes

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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 527

The narrator's mother struggles with her desire for liberty, as well as her needs to travel and feel some freedom from her home and everyday responsibilities of her typical life. She and Christine, the narrator, go on a long trip across Canada, and they visit many of their relatives that...

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The narrator's mother struggles with her desire for liberty, as well as her needs to travel and feel some freedom from her home and everyday responsibilities of her typical life. She and Christine, the narrator, go on a long trip across Canada, and they visit many of their relatives that they've never met or haven't seen for many years. When one relative asks why Maman left her husband to travel, she answers, "Perhaps to become a better wife." The narrator says,

I instantly understood what she meant: it is when you leave your own that you truly find them, and you are happy about it; you wish them well; and you want also to be better yourself.

Perhaps we appreciate our loved ones better when we take a break from them. It is then that we really discover who they are, when we walk away from them. Occasional absence, maybe, permits us to be more happy and fulfilled in our relationships, and this, in turn, makes us want to develop into better people. In short, then, it is good for us and for our relationships in general when we are able to pursue our own dreams alone from time to time.

When Christine is a little girl, she becomes sort of obsessed with a short length of yellow ribbon that she sees hanging from a dresser drawer in her older sister Odette's room. She's not allowed in the room, and so she pines for that yellow ribbon from afar until she learns that Odette is moving out to become a nun. Odette begins to give away all of her worldly possessions, but Christine is afraid to ask her about the ribbon until the very last minute, when Odette has boarded her train. Finally, Christine brings it up, as the train is literally pulling away, and Odette tells Christine that she has put the ribbon in Christine's room. Despite how desperately she yearned for that ribbon "whatever became of the little yellow ribbon," Christine says, "I no longer remember." In other words, often the things which seem so significant, life or death, to us as children are easily forgotten as we grow up.

When Christine's older sister Georgianna becomes engaged to a man her parents don't want her to marry, Maman and Christine go to try to stop the wedding. Maman tells Georgianna

you talk of love as though it would last[...] But when it goes[...]if there is nothing to take its place[...]it's horrible.

This idea, that love does not always last, or that it isn't always enough, that there must be something else uniting partners, or else a marriage partnership will fail, is abhorrent to Georgianna and surprising to Christine. Despite the fact that their parents have had nine children, they don't necessarily seem to show love for each other all the time, and both often seem dissatisfied with their lives. It is hard to tell whether Maman feels this way because her love is past and there has been nothing there to take its place, or because her love is past and there has been something else, for which she's grateful, to replace it.

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Characters