Point of View
“To Da-duh, in Memoriam” is written from the first-person point of view. The majority of the story is viewed through the child narrator’s eyes. She recalls when she first met Da-duh, her first impression of the sugar cane fields, and the rivalry that exists between the two family members. Hers is the only voice the reader hears, and hers are the only eyes through which the reader sees Barbados and Da-duh. Thus the rivalry—and both participants’ reaction to it—is only explained as a nine-year-old child might have seen, or an adult looking back at the nine-year-old child that she was. At the end of the story, the narrator pulls back even further from the events that form the bulk of the story. Her narration of what happens after she and her family leave Barbados—the riots, the planes flying over the island, and her grandmother’s death—are told from the point of view of an adult looking back at something that has happened a great distance and time away. The point of view is also less personal, more factual. The story’s final paragraph, though still firmly within the narrator’s point of view, shows the narrator’s close ties to the past and the story she has related. She reveals the lasting guilt she has felt about showing up her grandmother and making her feel inferior. She also reveals the ties she feels to her past and to her ancestry, of which Daduh remains the most potent symbol.
In her introduction to “To Da-duh, in Memoriam” when it was collected in Reena, and Other Stories, Marshall writes, “This is the most autobiographical of the stories, a reminiscence largely of a visit I paid to my grandmother (whose nickname was Da-duh) on the island of Barbados.” She goes on to explore the feelings that she and Da-duh experienced that year, as she recalls them from a distance. However, Marshall also acknowledges that later she tried to give a “wider meaning” to their rivalrous but affectionate relationship.”I wanted the basic theme of youth and old age to suggest rivalries, dichotomies of a cultural and political nature, having to do with the relationship of western civilization and the Third World,” she writes. Marshall also states that her grandmother is “an ancestor figure” for her, thus it is clear that Marshall’s remembrances of her grandmother can never be wholly objective or representative of the truth. Rather, “To Da-duh, in Memoriam” is Marshall’s recollection of the truth as she perceives it from a distance and as she has chosen to shape it. Marshall’s introduction reminds the reader that the story cannot be perceived as pure autobiography and that, as the author, she has striven to create a specific world and a specific message.
Symbolism and Metaphor
Marshall infuses “To Da-duh, in Memoriam” with rich symbolism and metaphor. Many elements take on great significance as seen through either Daduh’s or the narrator’s eyes. The narrator believes the royal palm is as proud as Da-duh in its “flaunting its dark crown of fronds right in the blinding white face of the late morning sun.” The planes that Britain sends over the island do not look or act like objects of the machine age, but like “swooping and screaming .. . monstrous birds” or “the hardback beetles which hurled themselves with suicidal force against the walls of the house at night”; this use of metaphor shows that despite hearing about New York and the modern world, Da-duh cannot even fathom its existence. The story’s most important symbol is sugar cane. To Da-duh, this plant represents a source of beauty and pride, but the narrator sees the cane fields as threatening. She walks among them feeling that the canes are “clashing like swords above my cowering head”; the narrator’s reaction to the canes reflects their history as an impetus for the slave trade and the ensuing exploitation of countless Africans. Through all this, the Empire State building, representative of one of the greatest countries of the world and the home of the narrator, symbolically towers over Barbados, a tiny colonial island.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Paule Marshall, Published by Gale, 2002.