A Jest of God
We were strangers from the beginning
tormented by our difference
which did not exist.
An important ingredient inherent in a successful mother-daughter
relationship is balance. Like the scales of justice, maintaining equilibrium
requires work. The special bond between mother and daughter is delicate and
unlike any other relationship due to expectations of performance on behalf of
both women. The female psyche is, characteristically, particular: each woman
having a certain regiment making themselves unique. Ideals and behavior learned,
possibly inherited, from others are two of many things which carve an
individual's personality. It is these similarities and differences which often
cause conflicts between mother and daughter. In A Jest of God, the relationship
between Rachel and her mother is strained due to unspoken expectations that each
had of the other. Stemming from poor communication, a host of differences were
assumed to exist between the two, when in fact their struggle originated in
The largest weapon which spear-headed the communication war between Rachel
and her mother was the generation gap; coming from different eras, the pair
assumed they had nothing in common. In Rachel's eyes her mother was a pristine,
saintly woman who maintained high moral values for herself and her family.
Therefore, being a good person and making the right decisions was never
questionable to Rachel, as this was how her mother expected her to behave.
Rachel listened numerous times to her mother comment on how "peculiar" her
behavior looked, and spoke of anyone else she observed doing the same. Although
this annoyed Rachel about her mother, she adopted similar paranoia tendencies,
speculating how her behavior with Nick, a summer beau, looked to anyone who
could be watching or noticing. Irritated by her mother's attitude, Rachel
excused it on the pretense that her views reflected the past times in which she
lived. However, Rachel had neither the patience nor the desire to speak out
against her mother for fear of stirring trouble between them. The irony in
Rachel's decision is that their relationship needed just what she was so
desperately trying to avoid.
By turning her back on the communication problem between herself and her
mother, Rachel wanted to believe that the problem was inherent in the
misunderstanding each had of the other. Underneath her shell, Rachel was coming
to terms with what was really true of the gap between herself and her mother:
their difference lay in her want to not be similar. Both were single: Rachel
unmarried and her mother a widow. Through her fling with Nick, Rachel wanted to
express her desires to be independent from her mother, and have an adult
relationship with another human being. Another similarity between the two women
was in their propensity to be stubborn and secretive, having opinions they did
not speak of but eluded to. This stubbornness was evident in terms of
religious exploration as both were curious about faith. Rachel was more
aggressive in her curiosity as evidenced in her visit the Tabernacle, however
kept it a secret knowing her mother speculated about what good people saw in
such activity. Yet another similarity both mother and daughter share was in
their satisfaction at living in a small town. Following the death of her father,
neither Rachel nor her mother were anxious to change their living pattern.
Rachel was not blind to the similarities she had with her mother, but attempted
to change herself in order to be different.
Like a teenager's last rebellious actions before entering adulthood,
Rachel's actions during her last months in Manawaka symbolized the final fight
to be different from her mother. Struggling to maintain a casual relationship
with a man her mother would disapprove of, Rachel was forced to sneak around
behind her mother's back. Rachel's mother seemingly had no trouble speaking her
mind. Rachel tried to maintain her image as a proper, rule-abiding school
teacher, and refused to speak to her principal about a troubling issue for fear
he would lose respect for her. When attending the Tabernacle, Rachel spoke in
tongues and left not knowing what she revealed of herself, only that her mother
would surely disapprove of what she had done. Making a public spectacle of
herself was a fear Rachel shared with her mother, however the experience was
liberating for her because she knew the news would disturb her mother. These
outward actions by Rachel were demonstrative of her want to finish her spiritual
growth, which was stunted by an overbearing mother, and her own fear of being
the same way.
Rachel remained a child well into her adult life. This was evident in
the way she spoke to herself, analyzing, and scrutinizing her own actions. The
narrative tone was that of a motherly voice, likely evidence of the fear for
what her mother would say, and reflective of who she was growing into.
Rebelling against such growth is a natural progression for women because a
strong sense of rivalry exists between mothers and daughters. The latter, eager
to carve their own path, become distressed when they realize they are unable to
choose something new for themselves because it has already been branded into
them from their mothers. Such behavior is ritualistic and shows friendly
competition between the wise and the wiser, as the former strive to prove
themselves independent. It is an attempt by daughters to prove their ingenuity,
and gain acceptance and approval from their mothers. Rachel realized this was
occurring simultaneously with the reconciliation of her inner self, took charge
of her independence and moved herself and her mother to the West Coast, at the
end of the book.
Gaining independence was a great triumph in Rachel's life, and coincided
with the first building block in an attempt to bridge the communication gap
between herself and her mother. Taking charge of her life was something Rachel
never felt compelled to do prior to the growing experience of her inner-self.
As important as branching out on her own was, she was never before able to do
this because she allowed herself to live under her mother's protective wing.
Although seeming to despise her mother for the qualities she unadmittingly
possessed herself, Rachel was merely running from the truth, and failing to
communicate only helped to reinforce this.