Exploring Perspectives in the Memoir, 'My Father's Daughter'

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In Shelia Fitzpatrick’s memoir ‘My Fathers Daughter’, the subtleties of the Fitzpatrick family dynamics are quite unusual, and throughout the memoir, they strive to be a “normal” family. We learn about these dynamics through the eyes of Fitzpatrick as she takes the reader through her life as a child, we are also privy to the relationship between Fitzpatrick and the rest of her family. As she begins to journey through her memories of her Father and Mother, whom she refers to by Brian and Doff respectively, we discover the discontent and disconnection between them. It is shown that they begin to grow apart decidedly because Brian develops into more of a leftist alcoholic and Doff becomes more complaisant in society. Both Lyndall Ryan and the Melbourne University Press comment on the memoir critiquing the different events and experiences that are discussed by Fitzpatrick. In Ryan’s commentary, she states that she was surprised that Fitzpatrick chose not to look at her parents’ story through a historical lens “to offer some explanation of their predicament.” Ryan’s perspective of the memoir is one of the feminist lens as she comments on the fact the Doff isn’t given much of a backstory or talked about in the memoir, instead with Fitzpatrick detailing the “dreadful impact on herself”. The Melbourne University Press takes a different perspective to the memoir, instead viewing it from a Marxist point of view, talking about how they “lived in a prestigious Melbourne Suburb.” The memoir itself is one of a fascinating experience of a family who is broken on the inside but is shown to be whole on the outside, with Doff becoming more and more discontent with her relationship with Brian, and Shelia gaining detestation towards her parents and Brian’s experiences until his death.

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A Feminist Perspective in the Memoir

Though not necessarily considered a feminist text by Fitzpatrick, over the years attention has been drawn to how Shelia’s mother, Doff, has been depicted in the memoir. This is highlighted in Lyndall Ryan’s critiques of the piece as she initiates a discussion for the reader around the portrayal. Doff is represented in the memoir as someone who according to Ryan caused a “dreadful impact” to the author, as she became destructive of everyone around her due to relationship issues with her husband. Ryan states that Doff’s feelings are never represented during the text, as Fitzpatrick “fails to grapple her desperately unhappy” mother’s feelings and offers no insight into her predicament. Instead, Ryan clearly insinuates that we become powerless to feel sympathy for Doff as Fitzpatrick places her in the background of her memories and the memoir itself “this is not a memoir of forgiveness”. Ryan then begins to discuss why Doff was, in fact, important to the author, as she insisted that she “attend a private girls’ school” among other things. Doff gave up her education to care for her family, to play to the expectation of society from that time. As the wife stayed home and the husband provided for the family, so the reader can infer that Doff has been suppressed by not only society but by her family. However, Ryan fails to make clear that Doff eventually returns to a job and becomes more satisfied with her life, as she begins to break down societal expectations. This is only briefly covered by Fitzpatrick but shouldn’t be neglected as it becomes an important part of the memoir.

Brian Fitzpatrick: A Marxist Interpretation

Contrasting to Ryan’s outlook on the memoir the Melbourne University Press instead explores the text from a Marxist viewpoint. In the critique, the main focus is instead of Shelia’s father, Brian, as they discuss his leftist point of view. The Press begins to converse with the reader about Brian’s life, how he was a “controversial figure on the left” and how he founded the Melbourne University’s pro-communist labor club. Brian was often seen as a radical who was suspected to be a communist party member, this alongside his radical views leads to him being usually out of a stable income job. The Fitzpatrick family were close to destitution but lived in one of the more prestigious suburbs of Melbourne, this is closely related to the Marxist perspective as they are being limited to what the can achieve due to their poverty. As they live in a respected area, they are often judged by the outside world due to their living conditions. It is clearly seen in the memoir that Brian cared more about his material possession instead of his relationships with his wife, the only somewhat good relation he had was with his daughter, but he inevitably ruins that though “his affairs” the Press states. The reader could interpret the memoir as giving a realistic view of poverty and how it affects a child as the author lived the experience and saw how it tore her family apart.

Psychoanalyzing Memories

The memoir yet has many perspectives not highlighted by both The Press and Ryan. Instead, the reader can conclude that a psychoanalytical perspective is also one that holds prevalence in the text. As Fitzpatrick transcribe her own memories certain things are highlighted as others are repressed, Fitzpatrick also states that she is an “unreliable narrator.” This could explain the reason why she talks more of Brian than she does Doff as she has repressed the memories she had made with her mother and highlighted those with her father, as her experiences with her mother, were usually unpleasant or hurtful. The reader could also suppose that the Oedipus complex had some part in the construction of the memoir, as the unconscious psychosexual desire of children for the opposite gendered parent is said by Dr. Sigmund Freud as being universal. This would explain the intense father-daughter relationship between Brian and Shelia. This would also explain Shelia’s need for love during the book and the constant switching between boyfriends and the commitment issues.


In the memoir ‘My Father’s Daughter’ by Shelia Fitzpatrick, the reader explores her life experiences as a child all the way to an adult. Discovering the dynamics between her family and how they try to conform to the societal expectations of the time. Both Lyndall Ryan and the Melbourne University Press critique the piece by analyzing the different perspectives. Ryan talking a feminist perspective and The Press taking on the Marxist viewpoint. A Psychoanalytical perspective also played a major role in the development of the text. Fitzpatrick constructs the memoir in a way that the reader can learn from her life experiences.  

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