“Promises Are Merely Sweet Lies”: Mandatory Motherhood and Migration in Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Patsy

Janelle Rodriques

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Patsy (2019) follows ten years in the life of its titular character who, having overstayed her tourist visa, struggles to come to terms not only with her new ‘invisibility’ as an undocumented, unskilled labourer but with her guilt and shame surrounding her unwillingness – perhaps inability – to be an effective mother to her daughter back home, Trudy-Ann, with whom Patsy has had almost no contact. In her mother’s absence, Tru suffers never feeling ‘at home in her body’ in silence, along with the realisation that her mother does not love her. This mother-daughter relationship, skewed as it is by the constraints not only of migration, but of what I am calling ‘mandatory motherhood,’ provides a nuanced exploration, without a tidy solution, of the demands of motherhood and femininity on those who are not equipped for or desirous of them. Moreover, it questions whether motherhood, as we understand and practise it, is always healthy for those of whom it is expected, and encourages us to reconfigure our expectations of motherhood as an institution.

Keywords: Nicole Dennis-Benn; Patsy; migration; Caribbean; mandatory motherhood; gender; femininity