Below you will find five outstanding thesis statements / paper topics from “The Autobiography of My Mother” by Jamaica Kincaid that can be used as essay starters. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in “The Autobiography of My Mother” and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a summary of different elements that could be important in an essay but you are free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent paper.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: Genre-Bending in The Autobiography of My Mother
The Autobiography of My Mother is not actually an autobiography at all; it is a novel. Furthermore, while the narrator’s mother’s phantom presence haunts the novel, she is not the main character; in fact, she is dead. How, then, is the reader of “The Autobiography of My Mother” by Jamaica Kincaid to understand the title and its indication of the novel’s contents, and what might Kincaid be trying to do by challenging some of the strict notions of genre that governed late 20th century literature? Is “The Autobiography of My Mother” also an autobiography of Xuela, the narrator, and if so, how?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Anger in “The Autobiography of My Mother” by Jamaica Kincaid
In “The Autobiography of My Mother” Xuela is an angry child, an angry woman, and is also, despite her assertion that she has attained a certain degree of peace, still bitter in her old age. What are the reasons for Xuela’s anger, and is she justified to hold onto her rage for so long? Make an argument, citing textual evidence, for Xuela’s anger as a survival mechanism, or, alternately, as an obstacle to a better life.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Colonialism in “The Autobiography of My Mother” by Jamaica Kincaid
The Autobiography of My Mother is set on the island of Dominica, which is portrayed as Xuela portrays herself: victimized and abandoned, with hidden and unappreciated beauty. Xuela’s circumstances and her anger are personal and reflect her family history, but they also mirror the larger social dynamics experienced by Dominica, which was a colonized nation for much of its history. The relationship between Xuela and Dominica in “The Autobiography of My Mother”, then, is an important one, and the setting gains significance when the complex dynamics of colonialism are understood. Drawing from postcolonial theory is particularly helpful in approaching this topic. Why does Xuela marry a man whom she describes, for all practical purposes, as a colonizer? What are her motives? Is she successful? How are Xuela and Dominica alike? How are they different?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Is Xuela a Sympathetic or Unsympathetic Character in The Autobiography of My Mother?
Protagonists in novels are often likeable characters, whom the authors develop in such a way that the characters elicit certain emotions in the reader. Characters may be considered likeable or worthy of loathing, but they rarely inspire ambivalence. What is your reaction to Xuela? Is she a sympathetic character or an unsympathetic one? Does your opinion change over the course of the novel? If you initially felt empathy for her, did that emotion become subject to more complex considerations? Establish your own point-of-view and defend it: Should the reader “like” Xuela? Why or why not?
Thesis Statement/Essay Topic #5: The Role of Dreams in The Autobiography of My Mother
The Autobiography of My Mother is full of references to dreams. Xuela is able to invoke her mother’s spirit, though she never glimpses her in full, through her dreams, which she seems to be able to direct at will. What is the function of dreams in “The Autobiography of My Mother” and does that role/purpose change as Xuela becomes older? Identify the recurring images and symbols of Xuela’s dreams and analyze their significance. What do the dreams indicate about Xuela’s own identity?
This list of important quotations from “The Autobiography of My Mother” by Jamaica Kincaid will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “Autobiography of My Mother” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of “Autobiography of My Mother” they are referring to.
“My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and eternity; at my back was always a bleak, black wind.” (3)
“Everything in my life, good or bad, to which I am inextricably bound is a source of pain.” (7)
“Night after night I saw her heels, only her heels coming down to meet me, coming down to meet me forever.” (19)
“I lay down to sleep and to dream of my mother—for I knew I would do that, I knew I would make myself do that, I needed to do that.” (31)
“Roseau could not be called a city, because it could not embody such noble aspirations—center of commerce and culture and exchange of ideas among people…. [I]t was no such thing as a city, it was an outpost, a way station for people for whom things had gone wrong, either because of their own actions or through no fault of their own, and there were many places like Roseau, outposts of despair, for conquered and conqueror alike…. (61)
“My own name is her name, Xuela Claudette, and in the place of the Desvarieux is Richardson, which is my father’s name; but who are these people Claudette, Desvarieux, and Richardson? To look into it, to look at it, could only fill you with despair; the humiliation could only make you intoxicated with self-hatred. For the name of any one person is at once her history recapitulated and abbreviated, and on declaring it, that person holds herself high or low….” (79)
“I felt I did not want to belong to anyone, that since the one person I would have consented to own me had never lived to do so, I did not want to belong to anyone; I did not want anyone to belong to me.” (104)
“The man to whom I was married, my husband,…drew on the noisiness of the world into which he was born, conquests, the successful disruption of other peoples’ worlds, peoples whose reality he and those he came from could not understand…. (223-224)
“This fact of my mother dying at the moment I was born became a central motif of my life.” (225)
“I refused to belong to a race, I refused to accept a nation. I wanted only, and still do want, to observe the people who do so….” (226)
Reference: Kincaid, Jamaica. The Autobiography of My Mother. New York: Plume, 1997.