Mint Tea by Christine Craig
In Mint Tea by Christine Craig we have the theme of pity, charity, anger, loss, connection, happiness, innocence and security. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Craig may be exploring the theme of pity and charity. Florence takes Esmie into her home because she pities her. She cannot understand how a girl of eighteen can be abandoned by the Home with nothing but their personal belongings. This may be important as it is possible that Craig is criticizing institutional life. How a child can spend their formative years without learning anything or being prepared for the outside world. Something which is very much the case when it comes to Esmie. If anything Esmie is lost in the outside world having spent so long being institutionalized. It is as though she has been forgotten about by society. Something which raises anger within Florence while she is talking to the Matron on the telephone. Florence is fully aware that if Esmie is left to her own devices things will not work out for her. Hence Florence offering Esmie a room in her home.
It is also possible that Craig is exploring the theme of loss. Both Florence and Esmie have lost people they have loved. With Florence it is her mother, father and Annie and with Esmie it is her mother and father. There is no sense that either woman has ever reconciled their feelings when it comes to the sense of loss that they feel. Despite the passing of time Florence with limited memories can remember some of the good times she spent with her family. While Esmie can remember the fire that killed her parents. The fire which killed Esmie’s parents might also be important as not only has Esmie been scarred by the incident but she is also afraid to lose people that she has become close to. Juliet and Florence being examples. In reality Esmie does not wish to lose the connection she feels she has with people who she becomes close to. It is for this reason that she decides to make Florence a cup of mint tea. If anything the cup of mint tea may symbolise a sense of connection for Esmie. A device that will reassure Esmie that everything will be okay. That she has security in her life.
It may also be a case that Craig is using the flowers mentioned in the story to symbolise happiness for Florence. Just as the flowers were in full bloom. Florence may have felt as though her own life was in full bloom. She was surrounded by family without a care in the world. Her family were alive (and healthy) and she had yet to set out on her life as a teacher. If anything it may have been a time of not only happiness but innocence too. An innocence that has slowly been chiselled away with the passing of time. The bible which Florence gives Esmie and the fact that they attend church together might also further suggest a strong connection symbolically between Florence and Esmie. Florence wants Esmie to live a good life one in which she will not stray. In reality Florence wants the best for Esmie though she only has gotten to know her. It is for this reason that she wants Esmie to join the church choir. Something that Florence feels may be a positive influence in Esmie’s life. As to why Esmie does not wish to join the choir is difficult to say but it is possible that she does not wish to get too close to others. In fear that they too might abandon her as she has been abandoned by the Home.
The end of the story is interesting as Craig highlights just how connected to one another Florence and Esmie might be. By listening to Esmie’s story about how her parents died Florence herself reflects on the death of her own parents and Annie. Which may leave some readers to suspect that like Esmie, Florence has nobody in her life. There is a cousin but that relationship seems to be conducted at a distance (telephone). At no stage in the story does anybody actually visit Florence’s home and her only engagement with the outside world is when she calls the Matron of the home, when she goes to Church and when she goes shopping. Which may be the point that Craig is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that both Florence and Esmie are reliant on each other. Even if Florence may not be aware of this. Esmie on the other hand has grown attached to Florence as Florence provides stability to Esmie’s life. Just as the Home might have. However the difference between the Home and Florence’s home is the fact that Florence wishes for Esmie to reach goals she knows she can reach in life. Though she may have retired. Florence remains a teacher at heart.