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A major theme throughout Birds of a Lesser Paradise has been mother-daughter relationships. However, in this story the mother’s role is reduced to a few paragraphs which tell us about her Christmas village collection that she willed to her daughter after her death. The narrator felt as if her mother was telling her to have  a perfect life like those in the figurine villages. But the narrator sells these, demonstrating that she feels that she has all of the unconditional love she needs. The mother only appears in a couple of other lines, in which she expresses distaste for her daughter’s life or comments upon love. We never learn of the father or any other relationships beyond her mother, Emory, and Gray.

So, I turned to Bergman’s descriptions to tell me more about this story. The descriptions are compelling, as always. The Victorian Queen Anne house is “a spindled gingerbread in disrepair.” The water is “deep as a swan’s neck.” The descriptions are all something that the reader would characterize as slightly abnormal, particularly the animals. The declining retrievers, the feral cats, the raccoon, and the one-eye chinchilla are pets that are far from normal. The part that pulled me in the most was when Emory was demonstrating how to give the sheep pills while bypassing their first stomach. This was a moment where I could see the narrator more clearly, and I recognized that she was somewhat intimidated by delving further into the life of an extreme animal activist. This story in particular demonstrated to me how a writer needs to pick descriptions and moments that are interesting and compelling as well as revealing the personality and background of the character.

We have often discussed in class Bergman’s choice to not use quotation marks for most dialogue. In the scenes when the narrator is remembering her mother’s Christmas village sets, we get:

Live like this.

At first, I did not quite understand why it should be separated from the rest of the narration with italics. How different is it from saying “It was as if my mother was saying: Live like this”? It becomes an internal voice that is not the narrator’s but her mother’s. Having it in italics really demonstrated to me that the narrator couldn’t get her mother out of her head. Maybe she feels guilty for not having the life her mother wanted her to. There may be another part to her that feels defiant and proud that she has created a life for herself where she will have unconditional love, unlike in most human relationships where someone can leave her.

 

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