The Mother Theme in Jamaica Kincaid's Fiction

Seminar Paper, 2009

15 Pages, Grade: 2

Loretta Haas (Author)


1. Introduction

One of the most basic and insightful bonds women form with each other is that of a mother and daughter. The different stages that a mother and her daughter are going through during their lives and the insuperable unity they have is a fact that people have been reflecting about at all times. The impact that a mother has on her daughter is huge no matter how distinct their relationship is. Passing on values, protecting the child and showing unconditional love are some of the main tasks of being a mother. But what if the mother fails to complete these tasks? Jamaica Kincaid grew up in Antigua and was raised by a father who was never there and a mother who gave all her attention to her brothers. She fled the island at the age of seventeen, left her family as well as her name behind and entered North America as Jamaica Kincaid. Even though she came to terms with the past, she copes with her experiences through writing books. Kincaid's tight, lyrical prose guides the reader through memories of her mother and her childhood. Due to her lifestory, Jamaica Kincaid manages to portray her fiction in an extremely pure and touching way. In the following, I will take a closer look at her biography and origin. I will also analize two of her novels, Autobiography of my mother and Annie John and interpret them in regard to the mother theme.

2. Kincaid’s Life and Works

2.1. Biography

Elaine Potter Richardson, who later became the novelist and essayist Jamaica Kincaid, was born in 1949 in St. John's, the capital city of the Caribbean island of Antigua. Her father was a carpenter and her mother was a housekeeper. They were a middle class family with no electricity, no bathroom and no running water. She was a highly intelligent but often moody child because of the difficulties between her and her mother. When she was nine years old, her mother gave birth to three sons in a very short time period. From that point on, Kincaid felt betrayed by her and it seemed to her that her interests were considered less important than those of her brothers. She became increasingly distant from her mother. This distance would later become a central theme in her fiction.[1] But nevertheless her mother was the one who brought her into reading:

When I was a child I liked to read. . . I didn't know anyone else who liked to read except my mother, and it got me in a lot of trouble because it made me into a thief and a liar. I stole books, and I stole money to buy them.Books brought me the greatest satisfaction. Just to be alone, reading, under the house with lizards and spiders running around.[2]

Jamaica Kincaid, Aug. 19, 1990 .

As she matured, Kincaid became extremely estranged by the social and cultural milieu in which she found herself in. Too ambitious and intellectually curious to be satisfied with the career chances in her island home, she soon became alienated from the mostly white, European tradition handed down to her. ''In my generation, the height of being a civilized person was to be English and to love English things and eat like English people. We couldn't really look like them, but we could approximate being an English person.''[3]

She began to detest everything British. Except, of course, the English novel, which was the only literature she knew. She completed her secondary education in Antigua, a country that is still under the British system, due to Antigua's status as a British colony until 1967. At the age of seventeen, Kincaid moved to New York to work as an Au Pair, while continuing her studies on photography at the New School for Social Research in New York City and the Franconia College in New Hampshire. She was ‘discovered’ on the streets of Manhattan by New Yorker columnist George Trow, who brought her into the fold of the magazine by printing one of her articles in the "Talk of the Town" section.

Elaine Richardson changed her name to Jamaica Kincaid since her family disapproved of her writing. This change was "a way for [her] to do things without being the same person who couldn't do them -the same person who had all these weights"[4]. So this was like a relief from her past and her family ties. Liberated from these ‘weights’, she started to write more and more.

In 1978 she wrote her first fiction ‘Girl’, which was later published in the New Yorker and the collection At the Bottom of the River. Her first novel Annie John followed two years later. Kincaid's early fiction, such as the story ‘Girl’, often focuses on the mental world of a young girl much like the young Kincaid herself that has to struggle with puberty and feels entranged by the people around her. In addition to her fiction, Kincaid produced a steady stream of nonfiction, beginning with her ‘ Talk of the Town ’ pieces for The New Yorker and continuing more recently with her essays on gardening for the same magazine. In 1983, she won the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and and Letter for her novel At the Bottom of the River and is nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Kincaid is married to the son of legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn and lives in Vermont now. But although Kincaid is married to an American and has been living in America for a very long time, she still feels that the British West Indies will continue to be the source of her fiction. "What I really feel about America is that it's given me a place to be myself - but myself as I was formed somewhere else"[5]. Today, Kincaid's work is regarded as unique among the various schools of Caribbean writing and she is one of the most respected of all women authors from this area. The basic theme that is drawn through all of her stories though is the theme of loss and betrayal, that she experienced throughout her life.

The ‘loss’ of her mother, the ‘loss’ of her country, and in some way even the loss of her identity inspired her most.


[1] Jamaica Kincaid. Encyclopedia of World Biography. Thomson Gale. 2004. 04 Oct. 2009 < >

[2] Leslie Garis. Through West Indian Eyes. The New York Times, 1998. 04. Oct. 2009 < >

[3] Leslie Garis. Through West Indian Eyes. The New York Times, 1998. 04. Oct. 2009 < >

[4] Jamaica Kincaid. Writing Memory, Writing Back to the Mother (New York: State University of New York Press, 2005) 22.

[5] Jamaica Kincaid. At the Bottom of the River. (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000) 94.

Excerpt out of 15 pages


The Mother Theme in Jamaica Kincaid's Fiction
University of Education Ludwigsburg
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
427 KB
Mother, Theme, Jamaica, Kincaid, Fiction
Quote paper
Loretta Haas (Author), 2009, The Mother Theme in Jamaica Kincaid's Fiction, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: The Mother Theme in Jamaica Kincaid's Fiction

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free