Psychoanalysing Theresa: Telling It Slant in Alice McDermott’s Child of My Heart

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Corso, Gail
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Psychoanalytic theory, as explained by Esther Rashkin, combines with literary analysis to understand the driving force that motivates a character to tell a story. Such is the case for understanding the first-person narrator in the fictive memoir, Alice McDermott’s novel, 'Child of My Heart'. By analysing symbolism, descriptive details, and dialogue, the reader recognises a conflicted identity of the 15-year-old protagonist Theresa - as told by her more mature self about her coming of age that summer in the early 1960s. Theresa reminisces about love, loss and death. Through the examination of what is said and what remains unstated - by use of psychoanalytic theory - the character’s motivating force to tell her story is intimated. Her phantom, or a secret in her family history, is considered through close analysis of words and symbols. Through cryptonomy, select words, symbolic acts and images are examined to identify her phantom. This phantom impels Theresa to tell her story with lies, including lies of omission, understatements, and silences; symbolic acts also point to her psychological needs. Significant questions surface about events from that summer in the 1960s to the time when the adult narrator - for her imagined reader - reminisces about her adolescent conflicted identity. Hints of a major family secret, too shameful to be expressed explicitly, when identified by the reader, sheds light on the character’s grief and loss.