“Nothing endures but change” (Heraclitus 540-480BC). People are born, only to die again. In a never-ending cycle of life and death, new ideas replace older ones and an evolution of perspectives takes place. Paulle Marshall aptly portrays this cyclical nature through her last line “she died and I lived” referring to her grandmother. The death is not physical alone. It is the death of old ideologies, dated traditions and disparate acceptance of modernization. In a vivid recollection of her grandmother Da-Duh’s reluctance to accept change during Paulle’s childhood visit, she narrates how the old lady loathes urbanity and finds delectation in her little island of natural beauty. The interactions that the narrator has with her grandmother remind us of the passage of time between generations. The demise of Da-Duh signifies the change that is inevitable, the transition from the old to the new.
Paulle Marshall’s work is replete with a richness of literary devices like symbolism, imagery and metaphors. Describing the foreboding character of death, the narrator feels that the planes that bring death to the little village are “swooping and screaming…monstrous birds”. The sugarcanes that grow in the village are Da-Duh’s delight and also the reason for the exploitation in the village. The pride of Da-Duh, the sugarcanes appear threatening to the narrator she feels that the canes are “clashing like swords above my cowering head”. This is a description of the duality of life. Where there is joy, there is pain and when there is life, death is bound to follow.
The life-death antithesis is depicted in the closing lines of the book where the narrator paints “seas of sugar-cane and huge swirling Van Gogh suns and palm trees [in] a tropical landscape . . .while the thunderous tread of the machines downstairs jarred the floor beneath my easel.’’ Light is identified by the surrounding darkness and life, by death that eventually follows.
The transient nature of life is evidenced by the changes that happen over a period of time. Death’s morbidity invades the colorful mind. The narrator imbues the reader’s mind with images that allude to this dark reality. “All these trees….Well, they’d be bare. No leaves, no fruit, nothing. They’d be covered in snow. You see your canes. They’d be buried under tons of snow.”
With a judicious use of metaphors, the narrator has drawn us to the reality of inevitable changes that our lives are subject to. Again, the sugarcanes are metaphorically perceived as the ominous danger that “...would close in on us and run us through with their stiletto blades.” Later, the planes that cause the death of her grandmother are visualized by the narrator as “the hardback beetles which hurled themselves with suicidal force against the walls of the house at night.” She points at our dogmatism in accepting the fact that the world is constantly changing. Those who fail to see this at first, experience it the hard way later.
However prejudiced we might be, towards change, the hard-hitting reality of a life-death cycle is inevitable. Time stands testimony to this fact. Paulle Marshall has
illustrated this through the depiction of conflicting ideas between her and Da-Duh and she conveys this message at the start when she writes, “both knew, at a level beyond words, that I had come into the world not only to love her and to continue her line but to take her very life in order that I might live.”