“The Youngest Daughter” is a monologue in fifty-two lines of delicately cadenced verse divided into five stanzas of differing lengths. The speaker of the poem is the youngest daughter of her family, and she is burdened with caring for her aging parent. Her monologue reveals a conflict of emotions within her: Love and pity for her invalid mother clash with feelings of resentment and entrapment for having to deny herself.
In the first stanza, Cathy Song evokes the effects of aging upon both women. The housebound daughter describes her skin becoming “damp/ and pale,” while her mother’s skin is “parched” from having labored in the fields. Both images are joined referentially by sunlight or the lack of it. The daughter’s condition results from being cloistered and kept in the “dark/ for many years,” whereas her mother’s condition results from spending too much time in the “drying sun.” Thus one of the paradoxes in this poem emerges: The sufferings of mother and daughter, though different, are also similar. Another contradiction rests on the reversal of roles that continually takes place. The mother and daughter switch back and forth between being the caregiver and the cared for, the soother of pain and its cause. In stanza 2, the daughter’s eyes are burning with frustration. Ironically, it is suggested that the mother, who tries to soothe her daughter’s “migraine,” is also the cause of it.
In stanza 3, the daughter...
(The entire section is 481 words.)