In Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock, we are introduced to a cast of characters, each grappling with their own complex histories, relationships and personal demons. As we explore further into the dynamics of this family and the individuals who surround them, we get a glimpse into the struggles that come with bridging cultural gaps and the relentless pursuit of a better life.
Below, we look into the personalities and narratives of each central figure in the storyline.
Enid is a single mother in her forties and a first-generation immigrant from Jamaica, who now works as a hospital cleaner. Her marriage broke down shortly after her second child was born. She ended it because she didn’t want her children to be exposed to her husband’s physically abusive behaviour.
Enid is proud of her clean home and the fact that she has given her daughters a better start in life than she herself had. She encourages them to embrace the English part of their cultural heritage:
“You come here, you try to fit in. Stick to the rules.”
She cares deeply about her daughters and saves up what little money she has so that Viv can go to university. Enid worries greatly about Del, who spends her time socialising late into the night rather than focussing on employment and respectability. It is this relationship that forms the emotional heartbeat in the play.
A letter from her sister claims that their mother is dying and needs money. Enid suspects this to be a lie, but it turns out to be the truth. This causes Enid to fall into a pit of depression in which she reflects on her own childhood and the way that she has brought up her own children. Both of her children have been characterised by strictness, at times to the point of emotional coldness and overbearing interference.
A lifetime of hardship and caring for others finally takes its toll on her. It’s for this reason that she ejects Viv and Brod from her home, feeling that she needs to be cared for herself now, telling Del:
“I want someone to hold me . . . gather me up and touch my cheek like I was a prize, not a curse, and stroke my hair like Mooma never could.”Enid
In recognising the flaws of her parenting that aimed to show “how life hard”, and by giving Del the space to be independent, she is able to start healing the wounds in her relationship with Del.
Del is an eighteen-year-old girl, presented as being angry, cynical, rude and rebellious. When Mai begins to read her palm, Del pulls her hand away and refuses to let it happen. This indicates how she is hiding emotionally and doesn’t want her true thoughts to be exposed.
She also struggles with her experiences as a second-generation immigrant, complaining of the limited employment available to her:
“the managers who treat us the lowest of the low’ and the ‘police vans hunting us down.”Del
She is frustrated that her mother doesn’t seem to understand the challenges she faces.
Mai advises Enid – without success – to “leave her to do what she want”. It is when Del leaves home and comes to live with Mai (pregnant, and therefore fulfilling Enid’s greatest fear) that she is given the space to come to terms with her identity and family relationships. She shows a growing maturity and responsibility in keeping Mai’s flat clean, and then refusing to see Viv again unless she takes her A-levels. This was much to Viv’s surprise, who thought her sister would support her rebellion.
We find out, from a palm reading by Mai, that Del loved learning, but is dyslexic and struggled with education as a result. Due to these difficulties, she joined a group of wayward peers whom she no longer feels a connection with. As with many of the characters, Del feels lost and unsure about who she really is.
At the end, through better understanding her mother’s struggles, Del is able to speak much more openly with her. This leads to a reconciliation.
A year younger than Del, Viv is the more sensible and reliable sister, mostly because of her academic ability and strong work ethic. Like Del, she is sceptical about the spiritual practices of both the Obeah woman (Mai) and the Pastor, but she doesn’t express her opposition as bluntly as her sister does.
It is assumed that Viv will definitely go to university, but she raises the possibility of this not happening several times. For example, she suggested going over to Jamaica for a gap year, only to be told that she “will be all right. They can’t take education away from you.”
Feeling a disconnect with the Euro-centric English curriculum, she tries to sabotage her opportunity to go to university, feeling that this would show a rejection of this narrow education. However, she finds a better solution by deciding to take Black History at university, much to her mother’s confusion.
Mai, a character who enjoys stout, is known for her humorous nature. She is an Obeah woman, practising traditional Caribbean soul-healing. However, she is shown to be angered by many of her clients, who steal from her, expect her to predict numbers for the bingo, or – in Enid’s case – make a medical diagnosis.
In many ways, she transcends the generations. She shows great empathy for Del, telling Enid, “So, she go out with she friends. Nothing wrong with that.” But while forming a close relationship with the younger woman, she also understands Enid’s pain, particularly since Mai has an adult son whom she is estranged from.
Despite her lively personality, we see that she is physically unwell when she nearly passes out and Del has to catch her. Then, when she shows her the way of soul-healing, Del is able to realise that Mai is dying. Symbolically, Mai gives Del her notebook of Obeah practices, so that the tradition will stay alive even when she dies.
Brod is a family friend who has known Enid since their days in Jamaica. He encourages Enid to teach her daughters more about their roots and ancestral history, saying:
“These girls got Caribbean souls.”
He shows his disgust with the British government over the difficulties that immigrants have in maintaining their citizenship and respect. Also, he vents about the racism that he and his compatriots have suffered. Brod wonders whether they really have achieved a better life by moving to Britain, and he drinks heavily to escape the reality of his present situation.
He has children whom he no longer sees, which is a source of great pain to him. However, Enid and her daughters are like a surrogate family for him, and he cares deeply about them. Out of concern for Enid, he informs Del about her mother’s decline in well-being. Also, he helps Del to better understand Enid by revealing how she suffered in her marriage.