Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam is a novel that explores the complexities of interracial adoption. It is set in America during the Reagan era and focuses predominantly on a small cluster of characters. I will outline key characteristics of two of the novel's most important characters below. I will also provide some information about the author's views on the role of characterization in the novel.
Rebecca Stone is a privileged white poet who feels a deep connection with Princess Diana. She's married to a British diplomat named Christopher. While in the hospital after giving birth to her first child, Jacob, she meets Priscilla, a black woman who works as a lactation consultant. Priscilla helps Rebecca to feed her child, and Rebecca soon convinces her to quit her position at the hospital to become Jacob's nanny.
While she often has good intentions, Rebecca is a character not fully aware of her own entitled attitude. She doesn't think very deeply about racial issues or racial power dynamics. However, when Priscilla dies during childbirth, Rebecca offers to take the baby (named Andrew) in, and care for him until Priscilla's daughter, Cheryl, has recovered from giving birth to her own baby. While Rebecca proposes this as a temporary solution, she actually intended to adopt Andrew from the beginning. She decides to do this, despite the fact that there is no evidence that Priscilla would have wanted such an adoption to take place. As Rebecca Carroll (2018) notes in her review:
"That Kind of Mother" is ultimately about Rebecca — the kind of white mother who loves the idea of being a poet, of being compassionate, of saving a black child from what she presumes to be the less fortunate circumstance of growing up around other black people.
The following quote from the novel also evidences Rebecca's entitled attitude towards adoption: "'This is what I want,' Rebecca said, and as she said it [she] knew that she always got what she wanted."
Cheryl is Priscilla's daughter. She works as a nurse and is the person responsible for getting her mother a job as a lactation consultant at the hospital. Cheryl is an African American woman and possesses much greater insight into racial issues than Rebecca. She is also more pragmatic about the many ways in which racial discrimination is likely to hamper Andrew's life. Cheryl tries to educate Rebecca about these matters, but Rebecca isn't open to learning, believing she already knows enough.
In the following quote from an interview with Nicole Chung, the author (2018) touches on the differences between Rebecca and Cheryl:
Cheryl is younger, and though she’s not poor, she is not as cosseted by privilege as Rebecca is . . . She's an interesting character. She's not perfect; she feels conflicted about her own role [in the adoption]. I think the end [of the book] is pretty pessimistic, but if I have any optimism at all, it really is about Cheryl more than anybody else in the story — like she will be the one to hold this family together.
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