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English Literature

Themes

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A theme is a subject or idea that keeps appearing in the text. You usually find more than one theme in a story. They help to hold the story together, and often encourage us to think more about the plot, and what lies beyond it

Innocence and experience

"You're so innocent, you didn't realise. You're too trusting, too kind, you don't know what these people can be like."

  • The narrator wishes her daughter was still innocent like a young child. She is shocked and disgusted at the evidence she finds of her growing experience.
  • The mother also feels guilty and ashamed of her own sexual experience before marriage, and has kept it a secret. This relates to the narrator's obsession with purity.
  • The word 'white' is often mentioned. And cleanliness is important to her, too.
  • The daughter, by contrast, is seen as 'dirty', lying 'on a pile of filth', living the most sordid life the narrator can imagine.

What is interesting about these contrasting ideas is that we realise things are not always what they seem. The narrator seems to have high moral standards, but when she was young she broke the rules, too.

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