MA, Master of Arts
Thesis - Open Access
Department of English
Committee Chair - Maxine Montgomery
Committee Member - Dennis Moore
Committee Member - Jerrilyn McGregory
Jamaica Kincaid’s semi-autobiographical novels give voice to the women of the British West Indies. Through her principal female characters within Annie John, Lucy, and The Autobiography of my Mother, Kincaid explores the long-lasting effects slavery and colonialism have had on the psyche of the West Indian woman. Issues of patriarchy are combined with conflicting cultural perspectives to create heroines who cannot look forward without looking back. For these characters the past is ever present, and the struggle for identity is conflated with the struggle to separate themselves from their colonial pasts.
The struggle for separation from the colonial past is symbolized by the heroines’ struggles with their mothers, whom each woman has difficulty separating herself from. Sigmund Freud, in his quest to document female sexual development, concludes “normal” development occurs once the young female transfers her desire from the mother to the father. However, these strong mother-daughter bonds stem from a pre-verbal fixation on the part of the daughter for the mother that the young woman is unable to grow out of, much less transfer her affections to her father. Within Kincaid’s three texts we discover heroines who persevere in their fixations for their mother well into young adulthood, generally lasting until puberty occurs, when these young women relocate their adoration into feelings of hate and betrayal for their mothers. The mothers and mother figures in these three texts are painted as all powerful, all knowing, and all encompassing in terms of their far-reaching impact on their daughters, similar to the deep-penetrating effects of slavery and colonialism on the islands of Dominica and Antigua.
Kincaid’s works have been analyzed from a psychological feminist point of view before, though the work of Sigmund Freud has never been used in this way to help trace the development of her female characters. It seems Kincaid’s heroines present us with an Oedipus complex that has been turned on its head: her heroines express long-lasting desire for their mothers, while their fathers are relegated to the peripheries of their lives and affections. We never see evidence of the transferal of affection from mother to father; rather once puberty begins these women begin to resent the subservient positions of their mothers and find Oedipal replacements for their affections.
These works trace the lives of the three heroines through their struggles with and alienation from their mothers, and the subsequent migrations these struggles lead to. Through the course of this paper I will trace the effects these Freudian pre-verbal fixations have had on Kincaid’s heroines and their families, and how these relationships serve as metaphors for the greater West Indies and their struggle for freedom and independence from their sordid pasts.
Seanor, Shannon E., "From Longing to Loss: Mother-Daughter Relationships in the Novels of Jamaica Kincaid" (2011). Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations. Paper 1963.