At the Bottom of the River is a collection of semi-autobiographical prose poems written by Jamaica Kincaid. She grew up in Antigua, encountering some unique difficulties as a girl in the Afro-Caribbean. These poems, though disconnected, relate to one another because they form the narrative of one girl growing up into maturity in the Afro-Caribbean. Although unconfirmed, one can infer that the experiences which the girl has are at least similar to those of Kincaid's childhood.
One unique aspect of these poems is the narration. At times, readers hear from the mother and at others from the daughter. The perspective shifts between and sometimes during individual poems. Doubtless the inclusion of the mother is Kincaid's way of editing her experience. Since she's not a child nor a teenager anymore, she has gained perspective and learned things which she never could have at the age which she's writing about. By speaking through the mother's voice, she can indicate to readers the truth which she was not able to recognize when she was the daughter's age.
A central theme of the collection is the culturally-accepted oppression of women at the hand of men. Kincaid's upbringing proposed a few unique challenges because she was a young black girl growing up in the postcolonial Caribbean. According to tradition, men are the dominant force in society. Women live in the home. Mothers teach daughters to be good housewives and mothers. Girls learn to fear men. Cultural division of gender roles leads to a differences in worldview between the sexes. Kincaid addresses this beautifully throughout the text. She writes how men will watch women as exotic, beautiful creatures, but the women look to nature for true beauty and pay attention to their surroundings. Since the poems are written from a female-dominant perspective, they present the feminine as the more virtuous approach. In a sense Kincaid is passing judgement on the antiquated system of patriarchy among the islands where she grew up. She's writing to all the little girls who are growing up now, telling them to listen to their mothers and appreciate that they are no less than men.