Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Psychoanalytical Tensions of Problematic Mother-Daughter Relationship in Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Psychoanalytical Tensions of Problematic Mother-Daughter Relationship in Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother

Article excerpt


Reading and analyzing Jamaica Kincaid's My Brother through the lens of Julia Kristeva's concept of abjection theory, a psychoanalytical theory, this paper provides a study which concentrates on the problematic relationship of Kincaid and her mother as the result of a mutual abjection between them. In this study Kincaid, the protagonist and her mother abject each other. Kincaid's mother abjection comes as a result of getting pregnant for the second time and her failure in aborting the baby and Kincaid's abjection initially stems from being abandoned by her mother after she gives birth to the Kincaid's first step brother. This study presents a reading which attempts to explain why the relationship between Kincaid and her mother is problematic, what the effects of the abjection in their lives are, and what the overall consequences of this problematic relationship are. The paper concludes that the problematic relationship between Kincaid and her mother remains unresolved. They try but never succeed in establishing a healthy set of relationships with each other. Kincaid tries to cure herself from the symptoms of the problematic relationships with her mother by immigrating to USA and writing but she is not successful.

Key words: Jamaica Kincaid; Psychoanalysis; Abjection theory; Julia Kristeva; My Brother


In this paper, Kincaid's novel entitled My Brother is examined through the lens of abjection theory of psychoanalysis. Applying the aforementioned theory through the perspective of Julia Kristeva in the text, the researcher seeks to investigate the roots of the problematic relationship between the protagonist and her mother. Kincaid's My Brother deals with a scenario involving Jamaica Kinciad and her mother Annie Richardson Drew. My brother is ostensibly about the narrator's brother. It's the story of his death from AIDS, and beyond that it's about Jamaica Kincaid herself and also the powerfully disappointing family dynamics that she experiences. She really destroys her relationships with her mother, her brother, and beyond that her relationship with the island of Antigua itself. This is a recurring theme in her work.

Literature, in Kristeva's view, "helps the author and the reader work through some of the maladies that afflict their souls" (2004, p.50). The term "soul" here McAfee utilizes in a non-religious way, something more akin to mind or psyche than to spirit. These afflictions involve abjection, depression, also known as melancholia, and a variety of neuroses and psychoses. McAfee claims that in Kristeva's view point, "Literature offers a way to help work through what afflicts us. In addition to displaying the symptoms of some kind of malady of the soul, literature can be cathartic" (50). It is definitely true for abjection. As Kristeva speaks of abjection and literature:

By suggesting that literature is [abjection's] privileged signifier, I wish to point out that, far from being a minor, marginal activity in our culture, as a general consensus seems to have it, this kind of literature, or even literature as such, represents the ultimate coding of our crises, of our most intimate and most serious apocalypses. Hence its nocturnal power (1982, p.208).

In nearly all of her writings, even the most psychoanalytic ones, she constantly turns to literary texts, both as a literary critic seeking to understand the "nocturnal power" of writing and as an analyst endeavoring to comprehend the author as a subject who is working through, his or her crises. Literature, she states, "may also involve not an ultimate resistance to but an unveiling of the abject: an elaboration, a discharge, and a hollowing out of abjection through the Crisis of the Word" (ibid). In Powers of Horror, Kristeva, after graphically describing the process of abjection, turns to two literary examples to portray how abjection works in literature, abjection's "privileged signifier": the Bible, and the work of the twentieth-century writer known as Céline. …

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