When reading Superstitions About Rats by Lesley Emmanuel, the reader will notice a distinct focus on the portrayal of the female characters in the short story. The women in Lesley Emanuel’s Superstitions About Rats are portrayed in such a way that one cannot label or identify them without referring to their relationships with other characters or the settings that serve to characterise them. It is also quite obvious that each of these characters has an influence on the main character, Anniline, in some way or another, either direct or indirect. By looking at the way that Annilene’ science teacher, Mrs Coetzee, treats het, it is clear that her scientific nature influences her to be sceptic and sarcastic towards Anniline and her statements about superstitious beliefs. This can be seen by Mrs Coetzee’s words to Anniline, “Oh for heaven’s sake Anniline, look at you standing there… . Say something girl, do something, start living in the real world! … Just get to class!” on page 221 where she scowls at Anniline after she told her that she recommended that Anniline does not get elected as prefect. She is also very mean in the way she talks to Anniline with her ever present scalding tone of voice.
Even though she comes forth as cold and harsh, her treatment of Anniline could be seen as her way of trying to help Anniline to snap out of her little superstitious world and live in the reality of what is happening around her. The gesture that she made (looking as if she wanted to touch Anniline) when talking to Anniline could symbolise the fact that she actually cares about Anniline’s wellbeing and is trying to be an authority figure to her in the way that Annilene’s mother is not. Mrs Coetzee definitely has an influence on Anniline but not directly. Indirectly Mrs Coetzee is breaking down Anniline’s confidence and as if using a defence mechanism, Anniline does not really give any attention to Mrs Coetzee and rather escapes to her superstitious world whenever she comes in contact with Mrs Coetzee, but this could also be seen as Anniline’s defence mechanism of protecting herself against Mrs Coetzee’s hurtful words. In some way it could be argued that Mrs Coetzee drives Anniline even further into her world of superstitions. A character that seems to have a negative influence on Anniline is her mother’s sister, Debbie. Debbie seems to be somewhat of a free spirit to the extent of not caring about anyone else’s wellbeing except her own. Aniline’s aunt Debbie, seems rather lethargic, vain, and in some respects mean and snide.
Debbie’s relationship with her sister’s boyfriend, Theo, makes her seem rather promiscuous and without morals and her attitude toward her sister as disgraceful. These components of Debbie’s character however, are so exaggerated that the end result would make the reader blind to any underlying characteristics about Debbie that would suggest she is the complete opposite of how the text portrays her. Another thing that the reader catches on is that Debbie is leeching off Anniline’s mother, living in their house, eating their food and then having the indecency to even fool around with Theo. She is abusing her sister’s kindness and doesn’t lift a finger to help out in any way.
The fact that Anniline had to give up her room when Debbie moved in with them could’ve made her feel pushed aside and less important to her mother. Debbie’s behaviour also has a direct influence on Anniline and causes her to be more defiant, not verbally but by her actions like for instance when Anniline did not poison the rats or when she poured some of the rat poison on the meat and gave it to Debbie’s dog, Fritzie, making clear her dislike of Debbie. Debbie’s behaviour with Theo also causes to dislike Theo even more and most likely have an effect on Anniline’s ability to trust people. Aniline’s mother is yet another character that is portrayed in the singular extreme of being very superstitious and is most likely he person that has the biggest influence on Annilene. One can deduce from her constant references to superstitious terms and phrases that her character is also exaggerated to the point that the reader is unable to regard her in any other light. There is definite evidence that her mother is loving and caring towards Annilene like when her mother tends to her bruised face or when she fixes Anniline’s hair, but she is very absent minded, very much like Annilene.
Anniline’s mother has absolutely no ambition and makes no effort whatsoever to change her situation and have a better life. She is worn down by years and years of struggling to make ends meet on the farm and gave herself over to superstitions to make her life bearable. She has a wish for Anniline to have a little ambition and to not grow up to be like her one day. “You don’t need to become a poor woman like your ma.” (p. 142). This quote shows that her mother wants her to make a success of her life and not end up like her. It seems as if Anniline’s mother feels like a failure. Anniline’s mother is a very passive character and accepts everything that is thrown her way. She is trying to make a life for herself but her attempts to farming have not been successful at all. It seems that she is exhausted mentally and physically. The fact that she stays with Theo even though he is fooling around with her sister could point to the fact that she degrades herself and doesn’t think that she deserves any better, or maybe she thinks that any father figure for Anniline is better than none.
It seem as if Anniline’s mother rates her family as a high priority as shown by the fact that she took her sister into her house regardless of her struggle with poverty and she accepts people as they are. This world of superstitions that she has built for herself has rubbed off on Anniline extremely. Anniline is like her mother in many aspects, but one of the biggest things is the fact that she is also, like her mother, a very passive person and accepts everything as it happens and does not try to change her situation. She wanted to become a prefect so badly, she could have done something or said something to Mrs Coetzee fight back but instead she chose to stay ignorant and just accept her fate. The bad choices that her mother makes influence her directly and cause Anniline to accept everything even if she deserves better.
As the story progresses Anniline becomes more and more like a mirror image of her mother, superstitions and all. Anniline’s mother and Debbie have at least two existing relationships in the short story and the proximity of these relationships is measured through how the narrative structure and settings used in the text symbolise them. The relationship of the biggest significance is the relationship both women share with the main protagonist, Aniline Through this short story one could see that the people around you will influence who you are as a person but most important of all, the choices a parent makes will influence who the child becomes. A person’s surroundings will directly influence who you are as person. As a result of the influences surrounding Anniline, she finds shelter in her own little world made up of superstitions, protecting her from the harsh reality surrounding her.