Mr. J. Godbout
March 7, 2010.
Falling Short of Perfection
“From the House of Yemanjà” by Audre Lorde and “The Bistro Styx” by Rita Dove share the common theme of daughters falling short of their mother’s expectations. Though the poems have obvious differences, both successfully convey the theme from two opposing perspectives. Each perspective expresses the theme using a first person point of view, though in “The Bistro Styx,” the poem is narrated by a mother. It communicates a strong maternal concern and a sense of exasperated disappointment, while “From the House of Yemanjà” is written from a daughter’s perspective and lacks the same tenderness. If children feel inadequate in their parents’ eyes, I believe that they would sooner become resentful than depressed as a result of their frustration. In addition, I believe that a mother would not as easily resent her child, and that her disappointment would evoke sorrow instead of bitterness. It is because of the powerful feelings of woeful disgrace as conveyed by a mother that I find “The Bistro Styx” to better allow the reader to understand the theme of failing to live up to parents’ expectations.
There are direct allusions in both poems that must first be fully understood in order to grasp the meaning of each poem’s message. Firstly, the name “Yemanjà” of “From the House of Yemanjà” is an allusion to the mother deity of all gods and goddesses of the Yoruba peoples of Western Nigeria. It is said that rivers flowed from her breasts, and in Brazilian religions, Yemanjà is known as the “Queen of the Ocean” and patron deity of survivors of shipwrecks. Both interpretations of Yemanjà are referenced within the poem, beginning with how the narrator relates her mother to the deity. She speaks of her mother as though she fears her when she says that her mother “brings [her] bread and terror,” yet implies that her mother is still somehow comforting. Since Yemanjà is the patron deity of survivors of shipwrecks, the narrator relates her breasts to anchors “in the midnight storm.” The narrator tells of the power and control that she fears in her mother, yet at the same time associates her with security. She relates her to being able to anchor those who are caught in a storm in order to ensure their safety, thus depicting a more light-hearted reverence as well.
The narrator is clearly internally conflicted because of her yearning for her mother’s affection. She feels as though she has never gained her mother’s approval due to being overshadowed by her mother’s “perfect daughter.” In the poem, the speaker admits that her sisters are cruel, and I interpreted this to mean that they constantly stole her mother’s affection away from her. The speaker was never the perfect daughter that her mother attempted to make her, but instead fell short of what her mother had expected her to become. Her mother favoured another daughter and gave her all of her attention, leaving the speaker “forever hungry for her [mother’s] eyes,” or in other words for her mother to notice her and look upon her in the same way that she sees her “perfect sister.”
A similar confliction arises in “The Bistro Styx.” The poem describes a mother’s encounter with her daughter who has moved to Paris to pursue a modelling career. The mother has not seen her daughter in quite some time, and as the two catch up, the reader learns that the daughter has ventured to Paris, convinced to pose nude by an artist who appears to be her lover. The speaker describes her daughter in a number of both positive and negative ways. Her perception of her daughter reflects her own internal conflict. She wishes to be proud of her daughter, yet cannot help but to be appalled by her degrading career. Her daughter’s decision falls short of what she had expected her to become, and despite referring to her as mannered, graceful, and ravishing, she also sees her as merely as a blighted,...
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