The book Troubling Love by Elena Ferrante tells the story of Amalia who is deceased. The story is narrated through her daughter Delia. It begins when Delia recounts the details of her mother’s death. Throughout the book, Delia narrates about her mother and delves into her past life which she has always avoided. The reader gets to learn about Delia’s family and how each one is dealing with Amalia’s death. In the book, Delia struggles with her identity. She identifies herself as what her mother is not when Amalia is alive, when she is dead, Delia does not know who she is. She tries to find herself. Elena Ferrante uses the theme of identity to explain the mother-daughter relationship that Amalia had with Delia.
When Amalia is alive, Delia identifies herself as that which her mother is not. She does not want to be identified as her mother. Delia tries to live life separately from her mother. This phenomenon can be explained by Delia living away from Amalia. They do not live in the same town. Delia lives and works in Milan, an upscale, posh, and urban town. She is a cultured Italian lady. Amalia, on the other hand, lives in the city of Naples where people are less cultured and the society is patriarchal (Sambuco, 2012). Living away from each other is Delia’s way of not being her mother. She knows the kind of influence her mother has over her and wants to break it. More importantly, Amalia’s presence in Delia’s house bothers her. Amalia visits her daughter in Milan at least once a month and stay over for a couple of days. During her stay, Amalia changes Delia’s routine, as well as the organization of the house (Ferrante & Goldstein, 2016). Delia always gets upset and she rearranges the house once her mother leaves. She puts the salt shaker back on the shelf and returns the detergent where it seems suitable for her (Ferrante & Goldstein, 2016). ‘I made a mess of the order she had brought to my drawers, I re-created chaos in the room where I worked’ (Ferrante & Goldstein, 2016). Delia makes the house into what seems comfortable for her so that she can do away with what her mother’s touch. The changes that Amalia makes to the house represent her and Delia does not want this because it means that she is like her mother. Similarly, Delia rearranging her apartment and placing everything where she needs it to be signifies that she is looking for her identity. Delia does not want to be identified as Amelia. She yearns to be an individual and identified as herself. This is why she goes to lengths to ensure that the difference between Amalia and her is obvious. More importantly, their use of language is also different. Delia always ends up using her mother’s dialect when she is in Naples. Amalia, on the other hand, would try to use Italian. Delia is an educated cultured woman but when she comes back home to Naples, she communicates in her vernacular. Her mother, however, tries to use Italian so that she could sound like her daughter. This always brought about tension between Amalia and Delia.
Delia does not know who she is when her mother dies. She struggles to find herself because in all her years of living, she identified with her mother. This is why she has visions of her mother and thinks about her all the time. Delia keeps dreaming about her mother and envisioning her do things. This signifies that Delia is aware of herself only when her mother is around. She brings back her mother using the visualizations that she has of her. Delia confesses that, ‘I felt… as if I had left myself somewhere and was no longer able to find myself’ (Ferrante & Goldstein, 2016). In addition to that, Delia has sleepless nights after her mother dies. The reason for her sleeping problems is because she is thinking about her mother and who she is without her. All her dreams about her mother confuse her. She also envisions her mother at the sink washing utensils and she sees her on the ceiling (Ferrante & Goldstein, 2016). Moreover, when Delia puts on her mother’s robe, she begins to feel beautiful again. Delia is lost without her mother and she tries as much as she can to find herself. She desires to know who she is but she always makes reference to her mother. Ferrante uses familiarity to symbolize how people find identity through the people or things they are used to. Amalia’s robe gives her this identity even if for a short time.
In the end, Delia comes to find out that she is both her mother and also herself. She resembles her mother in a number of ways. She has the same taste in men as her mother. Her mother and Caserta were close and they were seeing each other before Amalia died. Caserta is Delia’s symbol of desire for romance. Delia would want a man like Caserta for herself. Both she and Amalia have the same taste in men. Delia’s uncle Filippo admits that she looks like her mother (Ferrante & Goldstein, 2016). When Delia visits her uncle’s home, he comments on how Delia looks like the mother. Even though she does not like to hear that she is like her mother, her uncle still acknowledges the resemblance that exists between the two. Besides, the two also love fashion and like to look good. Amalia was fashionable and dressed well. Delia also enjoys dressing up and looking beautiful. Just like her mother, she is a victim of male gaze. Delia puts on nice dresses and make up and when she goes out into the streets, she is faced by men who lust after her and attempt to touch her (Ferrante & Goldstein, 2016). Her mother went through the same thing when Delia was young. This shows that the society that they live in is masculine and cannot stand independent women such as Delia and Amalia. Similarly, this fact explains why the society never forgave Amalia for leaving her abusive marriage.
Delia also realizes that she is her mother’s opposite. Delia detests Caserta because he tries to make a pass at her. Even though Polledro tries to make excuses for him, Delia is detested by Caserta and tells Polledro that he could kill him if he wanted. Besides, when Delia goes into the abandoned sweet shop, Caserta does not show up. However, Delia sees a collection of panties that Caserta has and one is hers. ‘Delia saw her bloody underwear on the floor’ (Ferrante & Goldstein, 2016). She is infuriated and makes a decision to make sure that Caserta is no longer a part of her life. Amalia, on the other hand, loves Caserta.
Signora De Riso tells Delia that her mother was seeing someone before she died. She insisted that Amalia was very happy at that moment. The two have a different view of the same person. It shows that their personality is different. Similarly, Amalia had never invited Signora De Riso into her apartment. Delia was kind enough to invite her in and chat with her about Amalia. Delia was kind and considerate while Amalia was not. Delia cared about her family and her mother was not so caring. Delia made sure that she went to see her father while she was taking care of her mother’s lease and utilities. Even though their meeting did not go well, Delia made effort to know how her father was fairing. Years after their separation, Amalia did not care about her ex-husband. Delia’s father made effort for them to get back together but Amalia was not interested. Delia’s kindness and concern for others shows that she is not her mother. She is able to relate with people in a better way than her mother.
Delia’s final image in the book prove dual identity. She identified in the mother and she was also her own person. Delia picks her mother identity card and places it against hers, the images resembles. In addition to that, Delia adorns the blue suit that her mother loved so much. It brought out her femininity. Ferrante uses this to communicate the similarity between Delia and Amalia. Wearing an object that had been close to her mother’s body emphasized her story (Sambuco, 2012). In the end Delia admits that she was similar to her mother to some extent. ‘But as I rubbed my face vigorously, especially around the eyes, I realized with unexpected tenderness that in fact I had Amalia under my skin, like a hot liquid that had been injected into me at some unknown time’ (Ferrante & Goldstein, 2016).
In the book Troubling Love, Delia struggles with her identity. She mostly identifies with her mother who is long gone. When her mother is alive, Delia struggles not to be like her. When she dies, she struggles with who she is. Eventually, she finds herself.
- Ferrante, E., & Goldstein, A. (2016). Troubling love. New York: Europa.
- Sambuco, P. (2012). Corporeal Bonds: The Daughter-Mother Relationship in Twentieth-Century Italian Women’s Writing. University of Toronto Press: Toronto.