A Critical Study of Mae Cameron
In Margaret Laurence’s novel a Jest of God, Mae Cameron plays a critical role in the development of the main character as well as the plot.
Mae Cameron’s fear of isolation in turn causes Rachel not to develop as a person. Mae is so worried about being left alone that she will stop at nothing to keep Rachel by her side. Mae Cameron isolates Rachel physically by keeping her home on bridge nights to serve refreshments to her friends, "Well, dear you do what you think best. I’d never suggested you shouldn’t go. Only on a bridge night- well, never mind. We’ll just have to stop playing while I do the serving, that’s all"(Laurence 106). Mae isolates Rachel emotionally by trying to control her relationship with Nick. She tells Rachel how inappropriate it is to date a Ukrainian and at that, the milkman’s son. Mae is most defiantly unwilling to let Rachel arrive at her own decisions " Rachel, do you think you should go out this evening dear? It’s up to you, of course dear, but I would have thought what with getting back to school and everything"(Laurence 178). Mae is always second guessing Rachel and trying to make her feel guilty, so she will choose to do her bidding. Rachel in all accounts doesn’t feel like she has a say over her own life. This is why a women of 34 is still living at home with her mother and staying home on bridge nights to serve refreshments.
God and religion play a large role not only in the lives of Mae and Rachel but it also gives insight into their true beliefs. Mae Cameron attends a very structured and ridged Presbyterian Church every Sunday where nothing ever goes array. Where as Mae is deathly afraid of the Tabernacle because it does not have a structured ceremony. People are proclaiming their faith for all to hear, others are receiving the gift of tongues and the sound of guitars and drums can be heard playing in the church. Without structure Mae feels unsure of the situation and that instills fear in her. Mae Cameron is the only reason Rachel even attends church. Rachel is unsure of her faith and only attends the Presbyterian Church to please her mother. There is strong evidence to support the theory that Mae only attends church to be socially accepted in the town. For example she speaks to Naill about not going to church, "It isn’t very nice Naill for a man in your position not to go"(Laurence 89). In this exchange there is only the implication that not going to church may be frowned upon by the towns’ people, but strangely enough there is no mention of how this act would be interpreted by God.
Mae Cameron is responsible for Rachel’s journey from adolescence to adulthood. Mae is to blame for Rachel’s lack of acquaintances by making her feel guilty every time she tries to leave the house. Mae continually treats Rachel as a child by always second guessing her decisions. Mae is unwilling to let Rachel grow as a person in fear that she will become independent and create her own life that does not include an aging mother. Mae reasons that if she makes Rachel feel like a child she will be incapable of independent thought and therefor unable to survive on her own.
The theme of communication is one that really adds insight into the relationship between Mae and Rachel. Communication between the two is not of choice but of routine. When they converse there is no substance behind what they are saying, "walk slowly dear, but hurry back" (Laurence 175) is an excerpt from typical conversation between the two. They will chat about nothing and they are quite content to do so, partly because after years of living together they are incapable of breaking away from their exchanges of hollow dialogue. The only time they do voice opinions is when they are discussing matters other than their own or when Mae is giving Rachel advice on how to live her life. The lack of communication between the two is the major factor resulting in Rachel’s inner voice. Rachel feels like she has no one else that she can turn to so instead she decides to deliberate questions she has with herself.
Mae’s inability in allowing Rachel to develop as a social being has been detrimental to her growth. Rachel has missed out on her formative years of learning about life and is only now beginning to grow and develop as a self-directed individual.