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 their sameness.
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.
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