It’s a Blind Love: Mothers in the Short Fiction of Sarah Meehan Sirk and Jamaica Kincaid

The cliché that love is blind is most often applied to romantic relationships where love is enough to mask the flaws of one person. However, in the case of the mother-daughter relationships in the short fiction of authors like Sarah Meehan Sirk and Jamaica Kincaid love is blind the sense that very particular outpourings of maternal love ignore the needs of the daughter it is directed at. The mothers in “Ozk” and “Girl”, by Sirk and Kincaid respectively, are very different and in many ways are direct contrasts of each other but the authors construct them in similar ways. Ultimately these are stories that capture mothers that love their daughters deeply, but their personal experiences render them unable to express that love in a way that is clear to their daughters.

The maternal figures in Sirk and Kincaid’s stories is a contrast between too much attention and not enough. The narrator of “Ozk” talks about the emptiness of her childhood and her feeling of obligation to care for her mother as she became more wrapped up in her work. The titular girl of Kincaid’s work is also being faced with obligation, but this time it’s the obligation to live up to the expectations that her mother is so forcefully explaining. The mother rails on her daughter about becoming a slut, a woman who is too worldly for her own good, but her advice is tinged with lessons that hint at her mother having the kind of past she is warning her daughter against as she explains how have a relationship or how to abort a pregnancy. The mother of Kincaid’s story is ultra focused on her daughter and the potential pitfalls of womanhood because she wants her daughter to become the kind of woman that the baker lets near the bread. In contrast the mother in Sirk’s “Ozk” is absent and Margaret, the daughter, feels as if she did not really know her mother and her mother did not really know her. Whereas the mother in Kincaid’s story assumes her daughter could not do anything on her own Ozk’s mother figure assumes that her daughter will be entirely independent. However, Margaret’s mother’s love does come through in the final moments of the text with the realization that Dr. Claire Gardiner’s scientific discovery that was the source of their distant relationship was ultimately named for her daughter.

Voice and narration are central to how both Sirk and Kincaid construct the mother-daughter relationships as the balance of lines between the two figures mirrors the kind of relationship that they have. In “Girl” the daughter speaks only twice, in order to quietly protest the assumptions that her mother is making – both times to little affect. The long ranting speech of the mother with only small interjections of the daughter creates the oppressive feel of their relationship while also capturing the one sidedness of their interactions. Sirk’s story is longer but in the present of the story Margaret’s mother has already descended into some sort of debilitating mental illness and is unable to speak for herself. It is a reversal of “Girl” and this time the daughter is describing her mother in her own voice. Margaret’s mother speaks in flashbacks to the child Margaret but interacts with the narrator in the present of the story only through the written caption at the very end of the story. It is a story told in the voice of the daughter but the mother ultimately gets the final word.

As a result. the use of voice is also a window into the daughter’s understanding of their mother. In “Ozk” the daughter is left to figure out everything on her own, her mother is absent, and she lives with the understanding that she was unloved, or at the very least only secondary to her mother’s work. However, she at least has the ability to expand upon that understanding, she has a kind of agency that the daughter in “Girl” lacks. That daughter is also in a situation where her mother’s love is perhaps not obvious, but her lack of understanding is shown by her silence. The lack of voice in “Girl” mirrors her lack of connection to her mother’s love where Margaret’s distant mother is shown through the absence of the mother’s speech in Margaret’s narration. These are also relationships that are not fixed through the kind of open communication that is generally considered healthy or productive. Instead the reader must look inside the relentless rant of Kincaid’s writing to see the mother’s concern for her daughter surviving in a difficult world and read into the final note from Sirk’s mother character to find her love for her daughter.

These are stories that are focused on the dysfunctional relationships between mothers and daughters, yet they are both stories with mothers who seem to truly love their daughters. “Girl” and “Ozk” are stories from the perspective of girls as they look at the women who put so much into raising them, and even though these are not the close loving relationships that are held up as the ideal these are still mothers who love their daughters. The ranting of “Girl” has a single outpouring of angry lessons learned and then forced out while “Ozk” contains a pervasive silence in the place of a mother that tries to honor her daughter through success. The perspective characters of these short stories catch glimpses of their mother’s love, but it is a blind kind of love that can’t listen to the experiences of the daughters.  Kincaid and Sirk raise questions around womanhood, success, and parenting through these dysfunctional relationships that show a mother’s love attempting to raise a daughter into a world that teaches hard lessons of its own.

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