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The mother repeatedly emphasizes food throughout her lecture to reinforce her belief that happiness comes from domesticity. The acts—and art—of making pumpkin fritters, tea, bread pudding, doukona, and pepper pot thus take on greater meaning as elements that link women to their families, their households, and the greater community. In many ways, food will also be the mother’s greatest legacy as she passes old family recipes and culinary traditions down to her daughter and future generations of women. Interestingly, foods such as doukona and pepper pot also act as anchors that squarely place the story in Antigua and the Caribbean. Mentioning these specific regional foods allows Kincaid to recreate a world that’s vivid and different from our own without ruining the story’s structure with unnecessary descriptions.
Read about how Kincaid returns to food as a motif in her novel Lucy.
Cloth and its relationship to appearances and proper housekeeping reappear throughout the story to highlight the importance of respectability. The mother knows that a person’s clothing reveals much about character and personality and that shabbiness implies laziness and poverty. Washing, sewing, and ironing allow women not only to project their status but also their productivity and self-worth. Neatness in appearance also corresponds to the community’s perception of a woman’s sexual respectability and morality. Organized, productive, well-groomed women appear competent and in control and consequently have much less chance of falling under suspicion of having had illicit relationships with men. The mother therefore stresses the importance of dress and appearance to save the daughter from a life of disrespect.
Read about how another work, John Steinbeck’s “The Chrysanthemums,” uses clothing as a motif to reveal femininity and sexuality.