The Changes is set in the deep South during the depression. A fifteen year old girl, whose main ambition is to finish school and go to college, witnesses her mother’s intentional starvation. The family attributes their mother’s irrational behavior to menopause, believing that all women going through "the change" become crazy.

The young daughter not only fears that her mother’s insanity is hereditary, but also that it may be partly her fault. The reader suspects that the mother may have intended to die in order that her daughter could afford to go school. The family seems to feel that the daughter’s presence in the household somehow drove her mother to insanity.


While this story deals with the misinterpretation of menopause as a disease, it also deals with family tensions concerning roles, leadership, and communication. The story promotes consideration of cultural interpretations of mental illness and menopause. It also raises the issue of the influence of poverty on family dynamics and on male-female power balances.

Finally, this story is helpful to illustrate how illness in other family members changes the role of children within the family structure. What can seem like minor biases or misconceptions concerning behavior and illness may have major impact on the future lives of many members of a single family.


First published: 1981 (Fiction West)

Primary Source

When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple



Place Published

Watsonville, Calif.




Sandra Martz

Page Count