For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday
May 16: Mother’s Day related Freebie: favorite moms in literature, books about motherhood, best mother/daughter or son relationships, books to buy your mom, worst moms in literature, etc. etc.
I wouldn’t want a different mom in real life. Mine is pretty amazing. But on the page I’ve seen some winners and losers. These are the most notable according to me. All of these have something to be said for them, even if I wouldn’t want them to be my own.
- Marmee in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott- Yes, it’s kind of predictable. But really how can you not include the warm, loving Marmee, who encouraged her daughters to be smart,kind women, and led by example? Marmee took over the March household while her husband was a war, and raised her daughters through hardship and poverty.
- Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables (series) by LM Mongomery- Marilla never intended to be a maternal figure. She intended to have a boy come stay with her and her bother, Matthew, and help them out. But when the orphan Anne Shirley is sent, rather than the boy Marilla expected, Marilla doesn’t know what to make of the optimistic, intelligent, spirited young girl. While Matthew takes to Anne right away, Marilla hold her at a distance. But as she gives Anne structure, and food, and a home she ends up loving the girl as the daughter she never had.
- Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen- Yes, she’s ludicrous. I don’t dispute that. But she also sees a disturbing reality. She had five daughters who, due to the law, can’t inherit her husband’s property. She and her husband won’t live forever. Unless they marry well, the Bennett girls will be alone, homeless, and unable to support themselves. Given those circumstances she does what she can to ensure a decent future for her daughters.
- Precious in Push by Sapphire- Her life is heartbreaking. She becomes a mother, as a teenager, under the worst possible circumstances (she’s raped by her father). Yet in spite of that, she loves her children and wants a better life for them. For my one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the book is when the illiterate Precious is learning the alphabet. She whispers what she knows of it to her son in utero. She knows that education could mean a better life for her children. She wants that advantage for them, even if, at the moment, the only thing she can give her son is part of the alphabet. It’s all she has, and she’s gives it to him.
- Katie Nolan in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith- Francie relates more to her creative, sentimental father, Johnny. But as Johnny’s alcoholism grows worse, he is unable to hold down a job. Katie holds the family together with grit, determination and hard work. She is determined that her children will have a better life than she did, and she gives them the strength that they need to survive in a tough world.
- Ingrid from White Oleander by Janet Fitch- This is a deeply flawed mother if ever there was one. After she is sentenced to life in prison after killing her boyfriend, Ingrid’s daughter, Astrid, is sent from one foster home to the next, experiencing all kinds of trauma. When Astrid’s false testimony could set Ingrid free, Astrid makes it clear to her mother that she’ll do it, but it will have a deep psychological cost. Ingrid must decide if she can put her daughter’s needs before her ow for the first time ever.
- Ma in Room by Emma Donoghue- Ma also becomes a parent under pretty horrendous circumstances (kidnapped, imprisoned in a small shed, and raped), but she loves her son, Jack, and makes a world for him in the small room that they share. When if becomes clear that this way of life isn’t sustainable for them, Ma arranges for the five year old Jack to be taken from the room so that he can free them both. Jack has difficulty processing the outside world after being locked up in a small space for his whole life. And Ma must confront questions regarding her actions in captivity. Did she always do what was best for Jack? And if not, can she live with herself?
- Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer- Margaret is visiting Italy with her mentally disabled daughter, Clara in the 1950’s. Clara falls in love with a young Italian and he with her. There’s a language barrier so Clara’s condition is less obvious than it might otherwise be. Margaret watches this relationship bloom and realizes that Clara may be more capable than anyone imagined. Margaret (whose own marriage to Clara’s father is unhappy) finds herself torn by two equally strong impulses: to stop the relationship and spare her daughter the pain of love gone wrong; or to take a risk see Clara have something that Margaret never did- a love that last a lifetime.
- Helen Graham in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte- Anne is often the unfairly forgotten Bronte sister. But she created a strong, loving memorable mother in Helen Graham. Married to an abusive, alcoholic, Helen breaks the law and risks kidnapping charges when she takes their son, and leaves him. She took this risk because she saw the influence that her husband was having on their son, and to her that was more torturous than any legal repercussions.
- Eva Khatchadourian in We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver- I’m sure that this is a controversial pick. Some people consider Eva to be the true villain of the piece. I’m not sure that she’d disagree with them! Eva was ambivalent about motherhood at first and always felt alienated from her son, Kevin. She even wonders if those feelings contributed to Kevin’s horrific violent rampage as a teenager. Did she sense evil in Kevin before his crimes? Was that why she found it so hard to bond with him? Or did Kevin sense her conflicted feelings about motherhood early on? Were his crimes in some way a reaction to that? In the aftermath of violence, Eva reviews her life as Kevin’s mother. She also considers what it means to be his mother in the future. Can she ever forgive him for what he’s done? Was she responsible in some way? I think that the last paragraph of the book speaks volumes:
“…after three days short of 18 years I can finally announce that I am too exhausted and too confused and too lonely to keep fighting; and if only out of desperation or even laziness I love my son. He has five grim years left to serve in an adult penitentiary, and I cannot vouch for what will walk out the other side. But in the meantime there is a second bedroom in my serviceable apartment. The bedspread is plain. A copy of Robin Hood lies on the bookshelf. And the sheets are clean.”
And a few honorable (or less than honorable) mentions:
- Corrine Foxworth Dollenganger in Flowers in the Attic by VC Andrews- Yes it’s hard to be a widow with four young children. Especially with no money. And if your parents are rich I can see where it would be tempting to throw yourself on their mercy even if they did disown you upon your marriage. But when Corrine learns that she’ll be disinherited if her father ever learns that her marriage produced children, her solution is to lock them up in the attic of her family’s mansion. Christopher (14), Catherine (12), and the twins, Cory and Carrie (3) live up in the attic for several years. And by hiding them away, Corrine ensures that they will repeat the sins of their parents (it’s no accident that their name sounds like “doppelganger”). The repercussions of the horrors that happen in the attic haunt the children for the rest of their lives.
- Margaret White in Carrie by Stephen King- I was actually a bit conflicted about this because Margaret loves her daughter and honestly believes that she’s doing the best thing for her. Another widowed mother in difficult circumstances, Margaret is very close to her outcast daughter. But when Carrie starts exhibiting telekinetic powers and acting a bit rebellious, Margaret begins to fear for her soul. Her solution is questionable to say the least: killing Carrie while she’s still young and innocent so that the girl can still be saved.