Critical Analysis Essay, Research Paper
“My Mother Told Me” is a short story from the book entitled New Axe Handle And Other Stories written by Robina Wright. It is a narrative that depicts a Maltese Mother and daughter attempting to adjust to feel at ease as part of Australian culture. Through thematic concerns, point of view, style and other narrative structures the story demonstrates to audiences a plot of cultural conflict.
The female protagonist of the story is Ginny (Giovannia), a young Maltese girl attending an Australian school who wants to become accepted by her peers – the setting for this plot is at Ginny’s birthday party. The other main character is Mrs Aldonza (Ginny’s mother) who tries her hardest to make her ‘little girl’ happy but has difficulty understanding the large cultural gap between her daughter and the other children who come from different social, economic and religious backgrounds.
The story is told from the third person limited point of view. “Giovannia was glad that her Mother was so enthusiastic. She had been a little worried…” (p.91) This is done so that the readers can see only how the protagonist is feeling as this is where the writer intends for readers sympathies to lie, but yet still allows audiences to judge the issues involved quite objectively to a certain extent by including hints about characters that have disguised meanings. Whereas readers know how Ginny is feeling they can only assume what the other characters are thinking from technical devices used by the author such as symbolism, imagery and implied meanings (connotations).
One example of implied meanings that is used can be found in the descriptions of personal appearance, in particular the hair of two of the girls at the party. “‘Crikey, it gives you the creeps!’ declared Melissa of the tight curled black hair.” (p.92) The hair is representative of the girls nature. Tight here being with regards to her firm, impermeable attitudes and belief system – she does not make any effort to understand different cultures. Curled as a description also giving connotations of being withdrawn and defensive, unchangeable. This is opposed to the other girl, “Tina, a kind child with long red hair…”(p.93) connoting a more mature friendlier girl – red coming across as a brighter ‘nicer’ colour than black.
Symbolism, as a literary technique is also used in creating meaning in the short story. One example of this was the symbolic purpose of the piece of fossil wood that Giovannia bought out to show Miss Bruce. It was explained that the fossil was actually a piece of wood that had turned into stone over a period of time. When audiences look at the main conflict in the story of cultural discord, and the characteristics – wood and stone – of the fossil it is possible that readers may conclude some symbolic inference.
The element of wood represents Ginny and her Mother as being softer and more pliable and vulnerable than the cold, hard, unchanging characteristics of stone. This then implies that from the attitudes of the Australian characters in the story that the stone is symbolic of them being set in their values and beliefs. The fossil may also represent the way that Giovannia and her Mother will turn to stone in their resentment towards the Australian attitude toward ‘different’ cultures, as they are not prepared to give up their original cultural background.
This symbolism is quite similar to the underlying message conveyed in the story told by Mrs Aldonza to the girls at the birthday party. Ginny tries to interpret why her Mother chooses to tell the story about the wild goose and comes to the conclusion that her Mother is trying to push a message “..perhaps that people, children, should not just be like everyone else all the time..” (p.93) Another possible conclusion as to the implied meaning for telling this story is that Mrs Aldonza is saying that Giovannia and herself are the wild geese that are trying to share their background (culture) and unless the others try to see both points of view they will continue to reject these ‘wild geese’ without even making an effort.
The dominant imagery that Wright includes within her story consists mainly of cultural icons and particular colours. The icons found include those of religion “church bells, saints and religious pictures” which is can be seen to inform readers of part of Giovannia’s upbringing and beliefs, and also images of food “rich salad of egg, salami and olives, sharp with onion and shining with oil. The dessert made with dried figs…” (p.92) that contrasts greatly with traditional Australian food, when reading the story from a culturally Australian background.
The two colours that recur as imagery are white and gold. “In that shining white islands of white streets and white houses, the churches were filled with golden treasures…”.(p.93) This imagery gives the readers the impression that Malta is a place of peace and happiness, rich in its own special way to the people who live there. This conveys meaning to readers that Giovannia and her mother are people who are proud of their history and try not to take anything in life for granted.
The mood of the writing changes throughout the short story. Readers can sense the mood in the writing through the main character and her mother. At the beginning of the narrative the mood is of nervous excitement of both mother and daughter “This was a great occasion for her little Ginny!” However, as the story progresses the mood changes to one of resentment and then finally ends in a hardened reflective state. The way that Wright changes the tone and mood of her writing allows readers to get a better understanding of the characters.
The title of the short story “My Mother Told Me” is one last literary device that Wright has used in producing meaning for audiences. When readers compare the title to the rest of the story it is possible to see its significance. Just before the girls leave near the end of the story, Ginny tells them a tale as to the history of the fossil “My Mother says it comes from…”(p.94) It is here that Giovannia sees that the teacher and girls are ridiculing her for her beliefs and makes the decision that she is best off without them for friends.
The short story “My Mother Told Me” deals mainly with the issue of cultural conflict and peer acceptance. Through the literary devices used by Robina Wright and the characters of Giovannia and her mother, readers are able to look into the characters lives, their beliefs and their cultural background. Readers can also decide for themselves as to where their sympathies lie in this situation or whether it is just a situation in life that has to be overcome by cultural understanding.