Da-duh is the narrator’s eighty-year-old grandmother. She has lived her whole life on Barbados and is confident and proud of her lifestyle, surroundings, and ways of looking at the world. She dislikes the trappings of the modern world, such as any form of machinery, and is uncomfortable in the city of Bridgetown. When Da-duh first meets the narrator, the narrator imagines that she saw “something in me which for some reason she found disturbing.” However, Da-duh also feels connected to her granddaughter, as evidenced when she clasps her hand.
Da-duh is completely at home in the countryside of St. Thomas where she lives. She takes her granddaughter on daily walks on the land surrounding her house. She shows off the glories of the natural world, and listens with an air of fear to her granddaughter’s descriptions of life in New York. She is not accustomed to having her life challenged, as her granddaughter does, and she attempts to assert authority through the royal palm tree, which is the tallest thing she has ever seen. When her granddaughter tells her about the Empire State building, Da-duh is finally defeated.
The small instances of surrender that the narrator had seen throughout the visit now pervades Daduh’s person. Instead of eagerly going on walks, she spends mornings staring out the window and spends her afternoons napping; grandmother and granddaughter take only brief, dispirited walks.
She dies shortly after her family leaves, and her death suggests both her stubbornness and her defeat. When Britain sends planes to fly low over the island in retaliations for riots and strikes, Da-duh, alone among her community, refuses to take cover in the cane fields. She stays in the house and watches the planes. The narrator imagines that it must have seemed to Da-duh that the planes were going to destroy her house and the whole island. When the rest of the village returns to their homes after the planes have departed, Da-duh is dead, still sitting in her chair at the window.
The narrator is nine years old when she visits Barbados and meets her grandmother, Da-duh, for the first time. The narrator is a strong-willed, unique child. Her stubbornness matches Da-duh’s, and both of them immediately recognize this similarity. Sensing this, the two lock gazes upon first meeting, and the narrator revels in her triumph when her grandmother looks away first.
Their likeness draws them together. On the day after their arrival, the pattern of their relationship emerges when Da-duh takes her granddaughter on a walk through the countryside. Da-duh shows off her world, and when prodded by her grandmother, the narrator agrees that they have no natural, healthy environments like this in Brooklyn. Da-duh’s comments make the girl realize what her world is missing. At the same time, however, the natural world discomfits the girl. She sees the sugar canes as “giant weeds” and thinks they have taken over the island. The narrator brings into her grandmother’s world songs, dances, ideas, and descriptions of the city, which her grandmother listens to, with a sense of disbelief. Throughout the course of the visit, grandmother and granddaughter battle over whose world is more grand.
Toward the end of the trip, however, the narrator wins the battle with finality when she tells Da-duh about the Empire State building, which would tower over the royal palm tree, the tallest thing that Da-duh has ever seen. However, the narrator is able to take little delight in her victory. For the rest of the trip, she tries to perk her grandmother up by performing songs.
After leaving the island, the narrator never sees her grandmother again because Da-duh dies soon thereafter. The memory of Da-duh, and the way she belittled her, remains with the narrator for the rest of her life. She also learns a valuable lesson from her grandmother: that in its unique way, the rural, natural world is as important as the urban, technological world and has something of value to offer her.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Paule Marshall, Published by Gale, 2002.