Composers are often able to convey the difficult experiences of growth and maturation through their exploration of complex parental-filial relationships. Sofie Laguna’s The Eye of the Sheep (2014) and Jamaica Kincaid’s Annie John (1985), are domestic fiction novels of the bildungsroman form, in which both composers successfully capture an authentic narrative voice through their use of distinct, idiosyncratic perspectives, enabling readers to form a unique connection with the protagonist in their search for independence. Additionally, both authors use characterisation to effectively communicate the impacts of complex societal issues and the upheaval in the domestic world on familial relationships.
In her novel The Eye of the Sheep, Sofie Laguna explores the growth of her young protagonist, Jimmy Flick, after the departure of his abusive father and the death of his mother. He is intellectually disabled, described as both too fast and too slow: sharp in his perception yet unable to navigate the conventions of everyday life. Her use of a child’s marginally restrictive perspective provides the reader with the ability to foresee what Jimmy himself is unable to. The poetic and liberating narrative voice of Jimmy also enables the author to further accentuate the melancholic tone of the novel. For example, this is demonstrated in the quote, “I didn’t cry. I didn’t know how,” where she successfully indicates how children are often confined as mere spectators and ingenuous participants in the adult world. This is also evident in Jimmy’s commentary of his mother’s death: “I climbed onto the bed and pressed myself to her, as I had since I was a baby, to feel her, the land that was mine, but it was still.” Here, the composer employs dramatic irony to reinforce the strength of maternal-filial bonds, creating a lugubrious atmosphere in which the reader feels obligated to sympathise. Though Laguna conceptualises the interconnectedness of family, love and violence as a result of external factors, this is represented differently in Annie John, as Annie’s tense relationship with her mother is a result of her own inability to accept that she must become a separate self.
In her novel Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid juxtaposes events of both the past and present, using the young, captivating voice of Annie to expose the impacts of her desire for independence on maternal-filial relationships. The contrast between before and after Annie’s developing cynicism is shown in the quotes “My mother and I often took a bath together…how important I felt to be with my mother” and after, where she recalls her old childhood memories bitterly, stating, “I’m not sure…I would be able to tell when it was my mother and when it was really her shadow standing between me and the rest of the world.” Through use of first person perspective and the personalisation of Annie’s tribulations, the author forms a connection between her and the reader, therefore evoking a similar sense of compassion. Evidently, Jamaica Kincaid positions readers to consider how Annie’s vanity and flaws may be a possible cause of her vulnerability. In The Eye of the Sheep and Annie John, both characters struggle to see the mature world beyond the arms of their mothers. Identically, the exploration of the growth of their protagonists is done through the powerful applications of narrative, perspective and character; Jimmy after violence and tragedy, and Annie through her progresssive maturation as a result of a painful alienation from her mother.
Set in the 1980’s industrial suburb of Altona, The Eye of the Sheep narrates Jimmy Flick’s maturation as a result of his dysfunctional family – who are subject to a perpetuating cycle of socio-economic disadvantage. Their lives are dictated by his father’s work at the refinery- and his constant abuse of alcohol often results in severe violence. Laguna’s portrayal of Jimmy’s relationship is bleakly realistic, and she uses her novel to offer striking insight into the complexities of domestic violence, an increasingly problematic societal and political issue. The impact of economic precarity on their family is reflected in the statement “That bloody kid! He drives me to it.” Laguna characterises Jimmy’s father in such a way that she is able to successfully challenge the reader’s perceptions on the limits of domestic love. These limits are evident when his father injures himself to protect Jimmy: “Look what he did, Paula. See this? How am I going to go back to work on Monday with this?” Despite his role as an abusive alcoholic, the author delicately illustrates Jimmy’s father as a man desperate for absolution – in a society where violence is passed down from generation to generation. Through the exploration of societal issues, Sofie Laguna effectively represents the consequences of upheaval on tense familial relationships, and as a result, how domestic adversity can lead to growth and maturation.
In Annie John, every chapter is symbolic of one of Annie’s childhood memories, allowing the author to continuously depict the emotional upheaval Annie experiences as she approaches adolescence, and her struggle to conform to the societal expectations of becoming a traditional young woman of 1950’s Antigua. Kincaid articulates how motherhood can be both biological and colonial, drawing a similarity between parental-filial relationships and the relation between colonists and the colonised. The author also conveys her attitudes towards societal conformity through the characterisation of the Red Girl, who represents the native Caribbean culture eradicated due to British colonisation. Annie’s mother forbids their friendship, sarcastically remarking on the Red Girl’s mother, “Such a nice woman, to keep that girl so dirty.” Annie’s mother’s pressure for her to conform to British Antiguan ideals and become a respectable young woman is essentially what causes the ambivalent transformation from a once-loving relationship to one filled with spite. Eventually, these expectations prevent Annie from growing and developing her own individual identity, separate from that of her mother. While Jimmy is subject to economic precarity and Annie gains independence as a result of opposing societal expectations, both composers use the unique domestic worlds displayed in both novels to portray the impacts of these issues on complex parental-filial relationships.
Sofie Laguna and Jamaica Kincaid explore tense parental-filial relationships through unique portrayals of their protagonists. They evoke empathy and hope within readers through the characterisation of Jimmy and Annie, who both face difficult adversity – of which conclusively leads to their growth and maturation. The composers allow readers to develop a connection with the protagonists through their distinct manipulations of narrative and perspective, and enhance how the demanding societal issues prevalent in both texts result in domestic upheaval. Ultimately, The Eye of the Sheep and Annie John are both powerful reflections on the internal struggle often experienced in order to find one’s sense of identity, challenging readers to consider our own authority over our familial relationships.