Like Mother, Like Son by Pauline Cartledge
In Like Mother, Like Son by Pauline Cartledge we have the theme of unhappiness, desperation, control, dependency and revenge. Narrated in the way of an epistolary narrative the story is only fifty words long and it becomes clear to the reader after reading the story that Cartledge may be exploring the theme of unhappiness. Taking the first section of the story which is written by the son (David). It is obvious that David is not happy in the boarding school. He feels that the food is awful and that the prefects are bullying him. There is also a sense of desperation in David’s words. He is desperate to return home. However his mother’s reply is one line ‘Nonsense! Chin Up.’ Though brief the mother’s reply say a lot. Firstly it suggests that she may believe that David is overreacting to the situation he finds himself in. Secondly she takes a very middle class stance by suggesting that David should keep his ‘Chin up.’ At no stage does the reader feel as though David’s mother has any sympathy for him. Rather she has complete control over him. Something that is noticeable by the fact that not only is David still a school going child but he is dependent on his mother to take him out of the school.
It may also be significant that David has never forgotten the words his mother has written to him. Despite the passing of over forty years he still holds a grudge (albeit silent) towards his mother. This is noticeable when in 1997 David’s mother who now lives in a Home for the elderly writes to David requesting he come and take her home. David’s reply to his mother is an exact match of his mother’s reply to him in 1955. Though some critics may suggest that David is being mean-spirited by exacting revenge on his mother. The truth may be simpler and David has simply never forgotten the feelings he felt when he read his mother’s letter to him. If this is the case than David’s actions may be driven by his emotions rather than any type of logic. Such is the sense of loss or unhappiness felt by David in 1955 it has shaped him as a man. Albeit some readers might suggest it might have shaped him negatively and that he should help his mother.
What is also interesting about the letters is that control has shifted from the mother to David. The mother has no option but to rely on David. It is also noticeable that the mother uses the word ‘immediately’ in her letter to David which might suggest she still feels as though she has some control over David. However this is not the case. Control has firmly shifted from the mother to David. Something that David is clearly aware of and so too is the reader because of the nature of David’s reply to his mother. It might also be significant that David excludes the word ‘love’ from his reply to his mother. In his first letter in 1955 he signed off the letter with ‘Love, David.’ This is not the case in 1997. David simply signs his name to the letter. It is as though he has managed to distance himself from his mother and that she is not the person he thought she was. He no longer may feel obligated to her as he did when he was a child. The symbolical umbilical cord has been severed due to David’s inability to let go of the past. A past that has clearly shaped him when it comes to matters concerning his mother.
One of the most striking things about the story is not only its length but also the fact that so much is said in the space of four letters. Even if each letter contains no more than a line or two. Issues regarding David’s future are brushed aside by his mother. Just as David brushes aside his mother’s anxieties when it comes to staying in the Home. There is absolutely no love lost on David’s behalf and he appears to be comfortable exacting revenge on his mother. Something which she herself may not be aware of. She may have no recollection of the choice of words she used in replying to David in 1955. However David has never forgotten hence his mirroring of his mother’s words in 1997. If anything two people have lost out. Both David and his mother. David because he remains scarred from his time in boarding school and the mother because she will have to remain in the Home. Everything could have been different or handled differently should the mother had not written back a three word response to help alleviate David’s anxieties while he was in boarding school.