Themes

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460

Astrid's conflicting hatred and love for her mother remain the central focus of this first-person narration. Because of her varied responses to her mother, Astrid's own sense of self is continually thrown off balance. Astrid distrusts language's ability to depict emotions accurately. In an early conversation with Paul Trout she muses, "That was the thing about words, they were clear and specific—chair, eye, stone—but when you talked about feelings, words were stiff, they were this and not that, they couldn't include all the meanings. In defining, they always left something out." As much as Astrid resists her mother's success with language as a poet, Astrid develops an affinity for lyrical language, as the narrative reveals. For example, her choice of imagery of the oleander flower that represents the poison that lurks beneath the superficial beauty of the object perfectly reflects the power that Ingrid holds over her daughter. Astrid's nostalgic longings for the Santa Ana winds suggest her conflicting feelings for her mother will always be with her because they are forever bound together by their past. By the end, however, Astrid is strong enough to resist the lure of her mother's destructive presence.

Illustration of PDF document

Download White Oleander Study Guide

Subscribe Now

As Astrid attempts to discover her own identity while moving from one foster family to another, her exploration of her past with her mother uncovers many missing pieces, including not only her father's identity but also that of her extended family. As Claire shares the family heirloom jewelry, Astrid muses, "In comparison to this, my past was smoke, a story my mother once told me and then denied. No onyxes for me, no aquamarines memorializing the lives of my ancestors. I had only their eyes, their hands, the shape of their nose, a nostalgia for snowfall and carved wood."

Her mother's faithful followers, who even seek out Astrid and become surrogate daughters to Ingrid, bewilder Astrid. In response to one of her mother's letters that twist the truth with its craftily stated words, Astrid responds in thought:

Nobody took me away, Mother. My hand never slipped from your grasp. That wasn't how it went down. I was more like a car you'd parked while drunk, then couldn't remember where you'd left it. You looked away for seventeen years and when you looked back, I was a woman you didn't recognize. So now I was supposed to feel pity. . . . Save your poet's sympathy and find some better believer. Just because a poet said something didn't mean it was true, only that it sounded good.

Astrid ably takes her mother's words and reforms them by cutting and pasting them into a poem that indicates that she can clearly think for herself and knows that the truth remains somewhere other than what her mother chooses to portray.

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-hour free trial
Next

Characters