Themes and message

Mother-daughter relationships

In “The Other Daughter”, Joanne C. Hillhouse explores the theme of mother-daughter relationships, generally through the narrator’s perspective. Ruth’s perspective on the relationship with her daughter, however, is also implied through her actions.

The narrator makes repeated references to Ruth’s figure and the way she smelled. She refers to: “Mom’s melon-sized chest” (l. 34) and “impressive breasts” (l. 55). She also notes: “I smelled like her and she smelled like a garden” (ll. 90-91). The references suggest that the narrator sees her mother exploited because of her femininity, but also gaining strength from it: “Mom (…) hoisted her impressive breasts as though they were shields” (l. 55-56).

As a child, the narrator seems mostly overwhelmed by her mother’s strong character: “I was willowy and almost ghostly compared to the force of nature that she was” (ll. 4-5). Ruth is presented as protective of her daughter. For example, this is suggested by her efforts to prevent the narrator from having the same life as herself, as well as through the scene at the airport: “She saw me hesitate and shoved me, roughly. Then she pulled me back and hugged me (…) But then she let me go” (ll. 95-97). Also, the narrator's words also suggest that she regrets leaving her mother behind: “And in both tales – fiction and reality – I left my mother behind.” (l. 124).

At the end of the story, the narrator presents a fictional version of her life, which also conveys some aspects of her relationship with Ruth. She imagines...

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