Cake

Themes and Colors
Guilt Theme Icon
Capitalism Theme Icon
Motherhood Theme Icon
Expectations vs. Reality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Cake, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In Cate Kennedy’s short story “Cake,” Liz is a new mother struggling to adjust to leaving her 18-month-old son, Daniel, at daycare and going back to work. She experiences intense, all-consuming guilt when she drops Daniel off at daycare and her feelings of inadequacy shape the entire day, from her interactions with coworkers to a conversation with her husband about finances when she finally returns home. No matter what Liz does, she is plagued…

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Most of Liz’s difficulties in “Cake” stem from the mechanisms of capitalism. She and her husband, Andrew, are “locked into” a mortgage that requires two incomes to pay off, and even though Liz’s work is necessary in this respect, she finds the actual content of her work menial and pointless. Her dependence on the salary provided by her dull 9-to-5 office job forces her to endure tedious, repetitive work and separate from her…

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“Cake” depicts Liz, a new mother, in a difficult transitional stage: leaving her 18-month-old son, Daniel, to re-enter the workforce. Kennedy centers Liz’s maternal emotions and her coworkers’ experiences as mothers throughout the story. As Liz goes throughout her day, she cycles through intense guilt, anxiety, anger, and joy as a result of her role as a mother. Through Liz’s less-than-joyous return to work, Kennedy suggests that while motherhood should perhaps be about…

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Upon her return to work, Liz’s coworkers congratulate her on re-entering the “world of the living,” welcoming her with cake and their own stories about how they were “counting down the days” to go back to work. But while they see Liz’s return as a cause for celebration, Liz is clearly in mourning, devastated about leaving her son at daycare and unexcited about returning to her menial desk job. This tension between expectations and…

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