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19th Century Novels
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Understanding Leave Taking

Winsome Pinnock’s Leave Taking premiered in 1987, and tells the story of three women across two generations who are struggling to find a sense of belonging in London during the 1980s.

  • Enid is very worried about her daughter, Del, who has been going out every night until very late. Del’s younger sister, Viv, is studying for her A-levels but is experiencing a crisis about her connection to the material/content.
  • When Del leaves after an argument, and Enid’s mother dies, the family go into a tailspin that sees them all wrestle with their identities and sense of purpose.
  • Eventually, with the help of a local Obeah woman, the family are able to repair their relationships and move on with their lives.

List of characters

In case you struggle to remember the characters, here’s a list of each character and a short description:

  • Enid: The matriarch of the family. She struggles with the changing dynamics in her family and the loss of her mother. However, she is working to understand her daughters and the choices they make.
  • Del: Enid’s older daughter, around 18 years old. She is rebellious, staying out late and getting into disagreements with her mother. Throughout the story, she grows and learns to stand on her own. Eventually, she becomes pregnant and forms a bond with Mai.
  • Viv: Enid’s younger daughter, 17 years old, who is preparing for her A-level exams. Viv seems to be more academically focused compared to Del, but also experiences a sense of rebellion. This is evidenced by her walking out of an exam. She contemplates taking a gap year to visit Jamaica.
  • Mai: A local Obeah woman who offers guidance and soul healing to the family. She forms a close relationship with Del, even letting her stay at her place. As the story progresses, she coaches Del to potentially take over her role as an Obeah woman. This reveals that she is nearing the end of her life.
  • Brod: A family friend who shares insights on the family’s history and the difficulties they’ve faced in England, including the experiences of Del and Viv’s father. He appears to have a close connection with the family, turning to them in times of personal crisis.

Scene 1

Scene 1 starts with an emotionally charged visit. Enid takes her two daughters, Del and Viv, to see an Obeah woman called Mai for some traditional Caribbean soul-healing. This sets the stage for the unfolding drama.

Enid tells Mai that she received a letter from her sister, saying that their mother is sick and needs money sent over. She suspects her sister is lying and just wants the money for herself. Mai is unable to give Enid a definitive answer, but advises her to send the money.

Enid asks Mai to do a reading for eighteen-year-old Del, whose behaviour of staying out until the early hours of the morning has been worrying her. Mai advises Enid to give Del space for her independence and not to worry about her so much. It turns out that Enid is worried that Del might be pregnant. However, Mai says she can’t assist with this issue, as she is not a doctor.

They all leave unsatisfied, but Del – who is very grumpy – stays back. Mai lets Del know that she can talk to her any time, but asks for the charm that Del has taken; Del returns it, but she also rejects the offer.

Scene 2

Viv, who is seventeen years old, is revising for her exams while Enid cleans the flat, awaiting the arrival of the local pastor. Del hasn’t returned home all night, and Viv tries to cover for her by saying she has gone to work at the “burger place”. However, Enid reveals she knows that Del was sacked from her job after arguing with her manager.

Brod, a family friend, enters. He talks of the difficulties they have had in England. He vents his frustrations, mentioning that they recently had to reapply for citizenship at the cost of fifty pounds. Brod also talks about a friend who had become homeless and suffered from mental illness after racist harassment.

Enid does not share Brod’s distrust of the UK government. She talks with pride about how Viv will go to university, and believes that they are better off living in England. However, Brod voices his disagreement about how Enid is not teaching her daughters about their Jamaican roots.

Del returns, and ends up in an argument with Enid because she has been out, dancing all night and has lost her job. After Del cruelly blames her for the girls’ father having left the family, Enid slaps her. After this confrontation, Del leaves, vowing never to return.

Scene 3

The pastor has left and Enid expresses embarrassment that neither of her daughters was present for his visit. Enid and Brod discuss religion, and Enid claims that she only feels listened to by God, She is a Christian and has no intentions to go back to the Obeah.

Viv enters, returning from a walk, and says that she wants to go to Jamaica for her year out, which Enid is opposed to. Enid’s sister calls and says that their mother has died. This puts Enid in a state of shock, but she makes plans to send over money for the funeral.

Scene 4

Viv comes into Enid’s room later that night, and Enid tells Viv about her youth in Jamaica, including the poverty she suffered. She also tells Viv about how her mother ignored her on the day she left for England. After this, the topic of Viv’s father comes up and Enid talks about how he moved to England before her and saved up for a year to get her a boat ticket.

During this reflection of her past, Enid hands Viv a savings account book, suggesting that she use the money for her university education.

Scene 5

A few weeks later, Del is now living at Mai’s house. The two of them bicker, and Mai threatens to evict her, but they also show a closeness and mutual dependency. Mai correctly identifies Del’s dyslexia and reading difficulties, which Del responds well to.

Viv arrives, bringing with her news that seems to be foreshadowed by Del’s recent actions and withdrawal: Del is pregnant and has lost contact with the baby’s father. Worried about her living conditions, Viv gives her sister the cash that she has taken from her mother’s savings account.

She then tells Del that she walked out of her first exam in an act of rebellion. Del is furious with her for doing this, and the two of them end up having a physical tussle. It ends with Del throwing her sister out, telling her to go and take her exam.

Scene 6

Enid comes to see Mai, who reads her palm and predicts that she will soon go “on a long journey”. Enid expresses the pain she is suffering from Del’s disappearance (not knowing she is hiding in a different room) and her mother’s death. Out of sympathy, Mai doesn’t charge her for the session.

Afterwards, she tells Del that she must leave her house soon, and urges her – in vain – to reconnect with her mother.

Scene 7

Brod is asleep in Mai’s living room, having turned up extremely drunk the previous night looking for Del. He says that Enid has “gone mad” and threw him and Viv out of the house.

As Brod reminisces about the past, a natural conversation unfolds, revealing bits and pieces of the hardships their father faced at work. A man who, under the weight of constant racist abuse, transformed into someone harder and cruel.

Brod also mentions that their father was physically abusive to Enid, which was why she ended their marriage. Del tries to dismiss it as “rubbish”, but is angered by this information.

Scene 8

A few weeks later, Del has made Mai’s living room tidier than it used to be. Mai shows Del that she has the ability to be an Obeah woman and take over from her, and Del realises that Mai is dying.

Mai arranges for Del to see her first client, and it turns out to be Enid, who is impressed by the independence her daughter has gained. She reveals that Viv is going to university where she will take Black Studies.

Enid explains that she has been tough on Del to prepare her for the hard life she will inevitably face, but says that her daughter must now look after herself. The two reconcile, and Del begins to read her mother’s palm.