Narrative Women in Context in Jamaica Kincaid's The Autobiography of My Mother and Virginia Woolf's The Voyage Out.
When looking at literature as a symbolic representation of life, the absence of a mother figure within the narrative may have a direct correlation with the portrayal of society as strictly patriarchal. In Jamaica Kincaid's The Autobiography of My Mother, the loss of Xuela's mother and alienation from her father is reflective of an alien and abusive society that leaves no room for her as an individual. For Rachel, in Virginia Woolf's in A Voyage Out, the almost complete sublimation of a mother figure and the overtly abusive "brutish" properties of her father seem to be correlated with a reference to the English society during the Imperialist years.
Xuela Claudette Richardson is an amalgamation of national identities. Her mother was from the Caribbean but was educated by French nuns. Her father was a mix of Scottish brigand, with a Black man's need to prove himself. Her mother died giving birth. Her father immediately hands her over to Ma Eunice, the wash lady and another person 'in service' to her father. Her life with Eunice was not overly problematic as Xuela believed she was treated in the exact same manner as her own children. The brutality she exhibits is considered tantamount to inheritance and is, perhaps, better than the intentional cruelty of her stepmother.
Xuela's stepmother is the antithesis of motherhood - She gives the child moldy food as well as an amulet. Xuela's mistrust is such that she puts the necklace around the neck of the dog, which then proceeds to go crazy and die. Motherhood means death - and explains the reason she becomes her own abortionist.
In Woolf's The Voyage Out, the role of mother is avoided to the point of being sublimated into language and music. Only here is there a sense of nurturing. Her mother is spoken of as Theresa and the only question is why shy would have married Willoughby Vinrace. The reader knows only that Rachel is not at all like her and that Willoughby doesn't like to talk about life before her death.
Rachel's father is described as "big and burly . . . [with] a great booming voice, and a fist and a will of his own" (16). There's an underlying assumption that he is not always or, perhaps, has not always been, kind and patient with his daughter. He has a habit of hitting her on the shoulder when he wants her to pay special attention to what he is saying. In truth, he would much rather she fulfill the role of wife than daughter. He tells Helen, his sister in law, "I should want Rachel to be able to take more part in things. A certain amount of entertaining would be necessary - dinners, an occasional evening party ... In all these ways Rachel could be of great help to me." (Internet source). She is to be housekeeper, hostess, and companion. There is an intimation that Rachel has been the victim of incest,...