Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 454
Reality vs. Fantasy
One of the most noticeable thematic elements in ‘‘What I Have Been Doing Lately’’ is that of reality versus fantasy. The narration begins with the narrator in bed, which perhaps indicates that the story is a fantastical dream. Indeed, it contains many elements that support such an interpretation, including a landscape that changes as the narrator passes through it and the detail that years passed as the narrator waited on the banks of the body of water. The dreamlike quality of this story has been noticed by many of its reviewers.
Another strong theme in ‘‘What I Have Been Doing Lately’’ is that of loss and longing. At the end of the story, the narrator wishes she were home, with her mother or anyone she loved. More clearly, she states, ‘‘I felt so sad.’’ Earlier in the story, while she is falling into the hole, the narrator states: ‘‘Falling made me feel sick and I missed all the people I had loved.’’ As the story seems to repeat itself, ending by starting over again at the beginning, the narrator’s feelings of loss and sadness will return.
Mothers figure prominently in Kincaid’s fiction, including ‘‘What I Have Been Doing Lately.’’ There are several direct references to the narrator’s mother within the text of the story. The narrator recounts that when the figure emerged from the horizon, she was sure it was her mother. Later in the story, she expressed the wish to find her mother, or someone else that she had loved, in her home cooking for her. In the text of the story that appears in At the Bottom of the River, the narrator also tells the woman she meets that she has ‘‘been listening carefully to [her] mother’s words.’’ All of these references imply that the theme of motherhood and that of mothering are important notions within this story.
Identity is another strong theme in ‘‘What I Have Been Doing Lately.’’ The narrator’s lack of a specific identity, or for that matter even a name, invites the reader to ask, ‘‘Who is this narrator?’’ The story also revolves around the mysterious identity of the woman who unexpectedly knows the narrator. The woman says, ‘‘It’s you,’’ yet the reader is not directly told who that ‘‘you’’ really is. Another question of identity involves the people on the beach. Their identities, as perceived by the narrator, change and thus who and what they really are remains a mystery to the reader. Although the topic of identity is not discussed within the text, the story indirectly asks the reader to ponder this topic by mysteriously leaving all of the identities within the story unknown.
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