I for Isobel


Amy Witting

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Themes and Colors
Mothers, Daughters, and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Poverty, Abuse, and Violence Theme Icon
Storytelling, Fiction, Narrative, and Escape Theme Icon
Transience and The Search For Belonging Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in I for Isobel, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Mothers, Daughters, and Self-Discovery

At the heart of I for Isobel is the destructive, abusive, and codependent relationship between Isobel Callaghan and her mother, May Callaghan. May seems to hate her youngest daughter, Isobel, while preferring her older daughter Margaret, but as the first half of the novel unfolds, it becomes clear that there is something dark, unspeakable, and ineffable that May wants from her daughters. As she goads the fiery Isobel to outrage and attempts to…

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Poverty, Abuse, and Violence

One of the great accomplishments of Amy Witting’s writing in I for Isobel is the restraint and economy of the language. In a very short space, with very few words, Witting effectively conveys the shame and desolation of poverty, the terror of abuse, and the devastating claustrophobia of physical and emotional violence. Though Witting makes it clear that the atmosphere in the Callaghan house is one of near-constant tyranny, tension, and anger, she uses…

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Storytelling, Fiction, Narrative, and Escape

Isobel Callaghan’s childhood is portrayed as frightening, claustrophobic, and violent. The terror of the abuse she suffers is compounded by the fact that her mother’s frightful rages seem to make no sense—they only occasionally follow a pattern, and Isobel and her sister, Margaret, never quite know what will set their volatile mother off. It follows naturally, then, that Isobel becomes obsessed with stories and fiction: with tales that have rules, plots, themes…

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Transience and The Search For Belonging

The trauma Isobel suffered in her childhood has served not only to estrange her from herself, but also to make her feel as if there is nowhere she really belongs. Unsure of who she is, unlearned in social cues and graces, and without the foundation of even one truly healthy, nurturing relationship, Isobel is launched into adulthood at the age of sixteen when her mother dies of an unmentioned disease. Isobel receives a modicum of…

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