CSEC Literature-Two Grandmothers

A World of Prose- Two Grandmothers by Olive Senior

Setting

The story is set in Jamaica during the 1980’s. The setting of
the narrator alternates between her Grandma Del’s house in the
country, her grandma Elaine’s (Towser) house in the city and her
parent’s house also in the city.

Point of View

The story is told from the point of a young Jamaican girl, from
an affluent urban background. Though she is unnamed, the story
chronicles her life as she grows up and the dynamic views she holds
of each of her grandmothers’ social settings. As the plot
progresses, we see through her child’s eyes the events which occur in
each setting. Over time, her innocence is lost as she matures, and
we,the audience can see this as her tone changes throughout the plot.

Themes

One of the major themes in the story is Love and Family
Relationships. In the plot we are introduced to the relationship
between a little girl and both her maternal and paternal
grandmothers. Her Grandma Del lives in a small country village and
is traditionally Christian in her beliefs, attending church regularly
and following the Bible closely, even saying “a whistling woman and a
crowing hen are an abomination unto the Lord” to her grandchild when
she finds her trying to whistle. In addition, Grandma Del seems to
try to nurture her granddaughter’s sense of self and self esteem,
complimenting her hair and her skin, calling it “…beautiful like
honey…” She also encourages the child to be “as beautiful on the
inside as she is on the outside” so that she will grow up to be a
“fine brown lady”. This inspires the young girl to ask her mother
whether she will grow to be “as beautiful on the inside as she is on
the outside” and she subsequently resolves to try to achieve this
goal.  On the other hand, the girl’s maternal grandmother, grandma
Elaine or “Towser” as she likes to be called is almost the complete
opposite of Grandma Del. She is affluent and lives in the city.
Where Grandma Del is more concerned with good values, Towser is more
concerned with appearances and material belongings. This is seen
when we are introduced to her current male partner, Mr Kincaid, and
he is described as “handsome…white…and rich”. The child also
alludes to Towser inveigling him to buy her a video as a present.
Towser also seems to look down on Grandma Del, calling her “a country
bumpkin of the deepest waters”. In addition she scoffs at Grandma
Del’s faith, instructing the child not to “quote her goddamn sayings
to me” after the narrator tells Towser not to paint her face as it
is an abomination to the Lord. It seems that Towser is uncomfortable
with the child being mixed race, as she complains that her hair is
“tough” and scorns its kinkiness. This incident introduces another
prominent theme, which is Attitudes to Race and Class.
Throughout the plot, we see many different attitudes to race
and class. Whereas Grandma Del is proud of her granddaughter’s skin
colour and hair, Towser seems disappointed that the child has the
more prominent black features of her father such as very curly hair.
The comment about her hair being tough upsets the little girl, and
when she asks Towser’s maid, she is informed that Towser is
disappointed that she “came out dark”. This unsettles the child even
more and she compares her skin tone to her father, paternal
grandmother and the maid, concluding that she is not as dark as any
of those persons. This segment of the story concludes with her
confusion at being referred to as “dark”. This is important because
it portrays the racist attitudes held by lighter skinned people
toward darker skinned people during that time. In contrast to Towser
is Grandma Del, who loves her granddaughter’s brown skin and long
thick hair and encourages the child to love her natural beauty. It
can be inferred that the grandmother is dark skinned, and this
further exemplifies the mentality that lighter skin was prized during
that time period. In addition, as the plot progresses, the child adopts a racist attitude toward black people, going as far as to say she didn’t like visiting her Grandma Del because “there’s nobody but black people there”.
The attitudes to class are seen in the narrator, as she grows,
her attitude to class changes dramatically. In the early parts of
the plot, she relates the story of Pearlie, Grandma Del’s neighbour,
who is very poor. We are told that she has to take care of her
younger siblings and do the household chores and cooking. In
addition, she has very few clothes and no toys at all. The narrator
initially is very compassionate toward Pearlie, asking her mother to
give Pearlie her old dresses and some of her toys. She even goes as
far as to ask if Pearlie could live with them in the city. This
initial attitude is typical of a child who is innocent, and has not
yet been affected by society’s class divisions and prejudices. As
she grows up, she seems to affect a more classist attitude toward
Pearlie calling her “that awful girl Pearlie… always asking me for
things”. This shows how she has hardened with age, and is no longer
compassionate toward her friend, but has begun to look down on and
despise her. This incident shows that classist, racist or highly
prejudiced attitudes are taught, they are not inborn in people.
Another major theme is childhood innocence. Since the story is
told through the perspective of a child, we see the world without the
filter of maturity. One example of her innocence is when she talks
about Eulalie and Ermandine, who are neighbours of her Grandma Del.
In this narrative, she relates how everyone was concerned because
Eulalie “fell” and no one knew what was to be done. The child then
expresses confusion, as she can see no physical injuries on Eulalie.
The audience however is aware that “fell” was used as a euphemism to
say that Eulalie was pregnant.

Techniques

One of the main techniques seen in the plot was contrast. The
narrator has contrasting experiences with each of her grandmothers.  In addition, her earlier personality is a stark contrast with her older personality. Between the grandmothers, the contrast between urban life and rural life is shown in the values of Grandma Del vs Towser. While grandma Del, though poor lives a life based on
traditional Christian values, and tries to instill them in her grandchild, Towser seems vain and more materialistic. Towser is affluent, compared to Grandma Del who is not as well off. However, Towser seems reliant on men for her self worth, while Grandma Del seems content with the simple joys of rural life. Also, the lessons each woman teaches the child are different. Grandma Del teaches the girl to love her natural hair and skin, and to be as beautiful inside as she is outside. Towser however teaches her that the most
important thing is to be attractive especially to men. This is seen in how the girl asks her mother “Mummy, when I’m old like Towser will men still tell me I’m beautiful?” Another example of contrast is the personality of the narrator as she matures. Initially she is a happy girl, who admires both of her grandmothers and is compassionate to
the less fortunate. She is also unaffected by conventions of class and race, seen in how she interacts with Pearlie, the poor girl who lives near to Grandma Del. She finds her grandmother’s rural home “cozy, dark and cool” initially. However as she ages, it no longer holds this allure; It is now “dark and crowded”. In addition, she no longer looks forward to staying with her grandmother, but finds it a chore and tries to convince her mother to let her stop going. Also, she becomes irritated by Grandma Del’s old fashioned tendencies, which she perceives as being treated like a baby. She seems to prefer Towser’s lifestyle to Grandma Del’s. Another technique used to great effect is irony. Irony refers to an unexpected outcome. One example of irony is the fact that
Grandma Del is critical of Eulalie and Ermandine being unwed mothers when she herself had the narrator’s father out of wedlock. The child is unaware of this until she is older, she only notices that her grandmother gets upset when she asks to see her wedding photo. It is also ironic that initially the narrator chides her maternal
grandmother for wearing makeup, but then later on wants to wear makeup herself. Even more ironic is how the child resolves to be as beautiful on the inside as she is outside, but eventually becomes selfish, materialistic and vain later on. This is ironic because as a young child she wants to be a good person, and to emulate her Grandma Del, however as she matures into a pre-teen/teenager she slowly forgets the values that grandma Del taught her, and is more like Towser in her actions and values
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