“To Da-duh, in Memoriam” is an autobiographical story told from the point of view of an adult looking back on a childhood memory. The story opens as the nine-year-old narrator, along with her mother and sister, disembarks from a boat that has brought them to Bridgetown, Barbados. It is 1937, and the family has come to visit from their home in Brooklyn, leaving behind the father, who believed it was a waste of money to take the trip. The narrator’s mother first left Barbados fifteen years ago, and the narrator has never met her grandmother, Da-duh.
Although an old woman, the narrator’s grandmother is lively and sharp. When she meets her grandchildren, Da-duh examines them. She calls the narrator’s older sister “lucky,” but she silently looks at the narrator, calling the child “fierce.” She takes the narrator by the hand and leads the family outside where the rest of the relatives are waiting. The family gets in the truck that takes them through Bridgetown and back to Da-dun’s home in St. Thomas.
The next day, Da-duh takes the narrator out to show her the land covered with fruit orchards and sugar cane. Da-duh asks the narrator if there is anything as nice in Brooklyn, and the narrator says no. Da-duh says that she has heard that there are no trees in New York, but then asks the narrator to describe snow. The narrator takes advantage of this opportunity to impress Da-duh with all the things that New York does have, and she describes the snow as falling higher than Da-duh’s house and cold enough to freeze a person. Then the narrator decides to show her grandmother popular dances from America and sing popular songs. When the performance ends, Da-duh stares at the narrator as if she came from another planet, but then smiles and gives her a penny to buy candy.
For the remainder of the visit, the narrator spends most of her time with her grandmother. They walk among the sugar cane, and the narrator tells Da-duh all about New York, describing the world of the city with its buildings, machines, and modern appliances. The narrator can sense her grandmother’s fear at hearing about all of these signs of urbanity. The narrator even tells Da-duh that in New York she beats up white girls, a remark which leaves Da-duh speechless.
Toward the end of the visit, Da-duh takes her granddaughter to see a very tall palm tree. She asks the child if they have anything as tall in New York. The narrator almost wishes that she could say no, but she tells her about the Empire State building, the tallest building in the world and over one hundred stories high. Da-duh gets angry and accuses her granddaughter of lying. The narrator says that she will send a postcard of the Empire State building when she gets home. Da-duh realizes that she has been defeated. They return to the house, Da-duh looking uncertain and the narrator feeling triumphant but sad.
The next morning, Da-duh doesn’t feel well. The narrator sings for her until breakfast. Then the two take their customary walk, but it is short and dispirited. At home again, Da-duh spends the rest of the afternoon napping. This pattern continues until the family returns to Brooklyn. On the day of their departure, Da-duh reminds her granddaughter to send the postcard.
However, by the time the narrator mails the postcard, Da-duh has died. Shortly after the family left, riots in Bridgetown took place. To quell the protest, the British sent planes to fly over the island and scare the people. Everyone in the village fled into the cane fields for safety, with the exception of Da-duh; she stayed in the house and watched the planes swoop down. The narrator imagines that, to her grandmother, it must have seemed that the planes were going to come right at her, in her house. When the planes withdraw and the villagers return, they find Da-duh dead in her chair by the window.
The narrator recalls how she always remembered her Da-duh. As an adult, she does penance for how she treated her grandmother, living in a downtown loft in New York and painting pictures of the sugar cane while the machines downstairs thunder noisily.
Carol Ullmann (Editor) Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 15, Paule Marshall, Published by Gale, 2002.