Mothers in Literature

Now that I’m a parent, I’m amazed at the amount of father/son motifs in children’s movies.  Mothers are normally dead – and daughters are left with evil-step mothers and their only recourse is a fairy godmother…which doesn’t exist in real life.  These aren’t exactly the healthiest images of female relationships we give to our daughters.  (I’m very interested in seeing Pixar’s upcoming Brave this summer – will they finally redeem the mother/daughter bond for our girls?)

I digress.  My post today isn’t about the portrayal of mothers in children’s films (though I could do that at a later date)…it got me thinking about the way mothers are portrayed in literature.  So I thought I’d compile a list of the most interesting mothers I’ve read…not necessarily the best…but definitely the most interesting, and perhaps, complex.

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Mrs. Bennett: (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen) She is loud, guilt-inducing, obnoxious, shameful, and ever concerned about the welfare of her daughters.  She embarrasses her daughters everywhere they go by her overt need to obtain rich husbands for her five daughters.  In historical context, can we blame her? Upon the death of Mr. Bennett, the entire Bennett estate goes to the sniveling Mr. Collins.  Widowed wife and daughters will be left in destitution – to the mercy and goodwill of relatives.  If the girls are married, and married well, Mrs. Bennett will ensure her daughters will be taken care of, and she will be too because of course, she will outlive her husband.  Loving, nurturing and sweet?  Most definitely not.  But, she loves her daughters so fiercely, she feels no shame in pursuing men to be their husbands.

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Lena Younger (Mama): (A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry) The Matriarch.  She is the ultimate authority in the Younger home.  It is her dream to finally obtain a home for her family.  It is her dream to give her family the dignity of home ownership and therefore a brighter future.  She has worked hard all of her life, she is a woman of faith, of principle and of great integrity.  Life could  have made her bitter and hard, but she is also loving and compassionate and forgiving of the grave mistake her son, Walter Lee Younger, makes in the play.  She is a character of great strength.  A true pleasure to read.


Clara del Valle Trueba:  (The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende) talk about mother’s intuition taken to the next level!  Clara is clairvoyant.  She is not of this world.  She communicates with the spirits and is eternally calm because the worries of this life are not of her concern.  She foresees her end but does nothing to stop it because it is her fate.  She does try to exact change in a society that is riddled with corruption and violence – in her own, spiritual, ethereal way.  It’s eerie enough when our mothers know what we’re feeling and thinking…but imagine a mother that can literally see into you?

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Mrs. Everdeen: (The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins) Mrs. Everdeen is in the throes of depression ever since the loss of her beloved husband.  Not even her two young daughters can will her out.  She is a captive of her sorrow…afterall, she is human.  Yet, there is a definite strength in her that the novel does not point out…because it is told from the perspective of her teenage daughter (and as teens it is difficult to understand the humanity in our mothers).  Mrs. Everdeen show quiet strength.  Even though it is excruciating for her to keep living without her husband – she perseveres for her daughters in the best way she can.

This lovely lady is not a literary figure, but my own mother.  She has embarrassed me – though not to the extent of a Mrs. Bennett; she has forgiven me and honoured me like Lena Younger; she sees through me like Clara del Valle Trueba and she has been so vulnerable that she has needed me to help her through moments of intense emotional trial.  Through it all she has remained steady, strong, loving and an exceptional example of womanhood.

The women of literature offer us a glimpse into ourselves, but none of these compare to the relationships we have with our mothers, aunts, cousins, godmothers (those without wings and wands) and older friends.

As much fun as it is to look at literary figures for reflections of ourselves, it is much better to do so at the women who influence our own lives.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful women who love, support, and see and remain true to themselves throughout it all.