While the single mother, who does remarry in Tillie Olsen’s story, finds herself faced with choices relative to those circumstances, the mother in the next story, “Daughter of Invention,” has a very different set of circumstances and choices. This story is a study of how a mother has the added challenge of not only being a wife and mother but also serving as the cultural interpreter for her four daughters and husband as they make the transition from living in the Dominican Republic to the United States.
Laura Garcia is not only a wife and mother; she is a role model for her daughters, a curious, imaginative woman who clearly has a passion for life manifested in her zeal to invent something. The author, twice, describes her reading the New York Times, implying that while she may falter somewhat speaking English, she is highly literate and wants to be an informed woman. Mr. Garcia is a medical doctor whose practice is successful, and the family is financially comfortable. Among the stories I have chosen for my unit, this family is the only one that is portrayed as a whole functioning family.
From the minute the reader meets the mother, Laura, she is trying to be an inventor. She is passionate about inventing gadgets. This drive sometimes consumes her, and her daughters complain that they cannot even “engage” their mother when they need to talk to her. But Laura is a wily woman who does not fuss over or coddle her girls, sometimes even when they seem to need her comfort. She seems to know how to maintain a healthy balance between nurturing her daughters and forcing them to be independent; she responds when their needs are genuine.
When the eldest daughter, Yoyo, insists “We’re not going to that school anymore” because “Those kids were throwing stones today,” their mother comes back with, “What did you do to provoke them? It takes two to tangle, you know (15).” In essence, she is letting her daughters know that they must learn to cope.
The story culminates in a crisis brought about when Yoyo, in the ninth grade, is chosen to deliver the Teachers’ Day address at her school. As someone who experiments with writing poetry, she is looking through a book of poems by Walt Whitman and is “shocked and thrilled” by his the somewhat irreverent, unconventional poetry which includes the line, “He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher (16).” Her creativity inspired, Yoyo found her voice as she wrote a five-page speech, which she promptly read to her mother who recognized its brilliance. But when Laura practices her speech before her father, he reacts violently to the rebellious tone in the speech, recalling his fear of rebellion and why he fled the dictator in the Dominican Republic. He knows all too well what happens to people who dissent and rebel against their leaders. He grabs the speech and rips it into shreds while Laura and her mother try desperately to rescue the bits and pieces. This is not the computer age and Yoyo has only the one copy, which is now shredded, the night before the assembly.
The family has the great fortune of having a woman of profound understanding. When Yoyo genuinely needs her mother, she helps her concoct a speech for the next day’s assembly. It is her mother who types it up for her once it is drafted. While it is not the speech inspired by Whitman, it is well received, and Yoyo gains recognition throughout the school. Yoyo’s father makes peace with Yoyo and buys her her own electric typewriter because both her mother and her father recognize that she has a gift for writing. Through her writing, she will create inventions of her own.
As Yoyo’s speech gains her school-wide recognition, and she begins to come into her own, her mother gives up trying to invent things. Perhaps it is the passion for invention that Laura modeled for her daughters. Yoyo is the eldest, and she is developing her passion.
This story is subject to another interpretation which is that the mother finally recognized that she had been so caught up in her own obsession to invent something that she had been somewhat negligent of her daughters. The reason I am less likely to agree with this interpretation is that the daughters, and even the husband, do not seem to suffer any psychological damage as the result of the mother’s fetish for inventing. In fact, the family seems to thrive as the result of it. Another observation that can be made is that because the family is so comfortable, financially, Laura can have the luxury of playing around with her inventions. Unlike the women in most of the other stories, there is no need for her to help support the family financially. A topic for discussion and one that could be developed into an essay assignment is, “Where in the story can evidence be found that would indicate whether Laura’s obsession or passion for invention was a positive or a negative influence on the family?”