The Two Grandmothers by Olive Senior
In The Two Grandmothers by Olive Senior we have the theme of tradition, modernity, identity, change, independence, connection, materialism, insecurity and coming of age. Taken from her Arrival of the Snake-Woman and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the form of several letters (an epistolary narrative) sent by a young unnamed girl to her mother. What is also interesting about the story is the fact Senior appears to be comparing both Grandmothers to each other by way of tradition versus modernity. Grandmother Del would be more traditional than Grandmother Elaine. She is a regular church goer, she believes in making her own clothes and tries to keep the narrator as level-headed as possible through her own personal beliefs. Something which is in complete contradiction to the more modern Grandmother Elaine. Who is either separated or a widow but who nonetheless throughout the story manages to have three separate boyfriends. It is also interesting that Grandmother Elaine tells the narrator to call her Towser. This may be important as it suggests that the younger Elaine does not associate herself with the idea of being a grandmother. If anything she is still young at heart and believes in living her life on her own terms. Though it is interesting that she is reliant on modern technology while Grandmother Del, who leaves a less materialistic live, manages to exist without the latest technological gadgets.
It may also be important that the narrator follows the wisdom of Grandmother Del. Till she reaches a certain age when there is a noticeable change in the narrator. No longer does she like to visit Grandmother Del nor does she like Grandmother Del’s neighbours. It is also noticeable that the narrator has become more like Towser in her outlook on life. She like many young girls wishes to dress herself, wear make-up and live a more materialistic life. Something that is noticeable by way of the fact that the narrator complains to her mother that Grandmother Del only has a black and white television. What is also interesting is the connection that the narrator has with both her grandmother’s. The narrator when she is younger is more connected to Grandmother Del. However as she grows older and enters womanhood the reader discovers that the narrator feels more of a connection with Towser. It might also be important that Towser is relying on her looks as she grows older whereas Grandmother Del appears to live a simpler life and is more self-reliant than Towser. If anything each of Towser’s suitors are paying for her lifestyle.
Though some critics might suggest that Grandmother Del is living an old-fashioned lifestyle. It may be important to remember that she is also poor. She cannot afford to do the things that Towser does nor does it appear as though Grandmother Del would wish to. It might also be important to consider how independent Grandmother Del and Towser are. Grandmother Del is forced to be self-sufficient and she manages very well with the little that she has. Towser as mentioned appears to be reliant on others and is far from independent. Something that the narrator does not seem to notice. Such is the development in her growth and her belief that Towser lives a better life. The reader is also fully aware that the narrator is basing her opinion on materialism. The narrator is at an age in which appearance is important to her and so too are material possessions. It is also noticeable that the narrator from the start of the story to the end is developing her identity. Where once she was happy to have castor oil rubbed into her hair as she has gotten older the narrator prefers to use conditioner.
It may also be significant that the narrator falls out with so many of her peers throughout the story. Where once she had empathy for some of Grandmother Del’s neighbours. Pearlie being an example. As she has grown older the narrator considers Pearlie to be an embarrassment. The narrator basing her opinion solely on Pearlie’s physical appearance and the fact that Pearlie is wearing torn clothes. If anything the narrator has come of age and is beginning to see her life and other people’s lives in a different manner. Where once the narrator might have been considered innocence. This is not the case as the narrator matures. She is wholly focused on herself as she grows up and other people’s opinion of her appear to matter to the narrator. Something that becomes clear to the reader when Maureen uses a racial slur to describe the narrator. If anything it may be a case that as the narrator has grown she has become more insecure. She may have the appearance she has desired but she is not really any happier. She has being influenced by material possessions where once she was happy to wear Grandmother Del’s homemade dresses. In reality the narrator is forgetting about the traditions of Grandmother Del in preference for the more modern approach of Towser. Something that is clearer to the reader by the fact that the narrator no longer wishes to visit Grandmother Del.