A Question of Power Themes & Motifs

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Madness

The novel depicts madness as both biologically determined, inherited within family lines, and sociologically constructed, under oppressive governmental regimes. On the one hand, the novel makes certain associative links between Elizabeth’s nervous breakdowns and her mother’s breakdown. Numerous characters, especially during Elizabeth’s childhood in South Africa, approach Elizabeth’s family history in this way. For example, Elizabeth remembers how the instructors at her mission school, upon learning the facts of Elizabeth’s mother’s history, began to look for signs of insomnia and madness in her. From a young age, therefore, Elizabeth’s life is impacted by the legacy of her mother’s mental health.

On the other hand, the novel suggests that Elizabeth’s madness may be a matter of correlation, rather than causation. When Elizabeth reflects on her childhood, she imagines her dead mother speaking to her, and inviting her to...

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This section contains 2,354 words
(approx. 6 pages at 400 words per page)
Buy the A Question of Power Study Guide
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