In literature and in real life, mother-daughter relationships are complicated.
Mother’s day is coming up. And the first thought I have is “bah humbug.”
This is always a difficult day for me. I’m mostly estranged from my own mother; although in the last year we’ve upgraded our relationship from Fight Club to acknowledging each other at family gatherings.
I have always found literary depictions of mothers fascinating; particularly the way mothers interact with their daughters. Here are some of my favourite literary depictions of complicated mother-daughter relationships. These books make for great reading, and they’re cheaper than therapy.
I’m dedicating this to those women out there who, like me, will probably spend mother’s day curled up on a couch sulking into a glass of wine. You are not alone girl.
“And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these closed American-born minds “joy luck” is not a word, it does not exist. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from g
eneration to generation.”
My favourite book of all time. And one of the most intricate examinations of how mothers and daughters struggle to relate to each other across generations and cultures that I have ever read.
“Tradionally, parents made decisions for a child, because presumably they are looking out for his or her best interests. But if they are blinded, instead, by the best interests of another one of their children, the system breaks down. If you have one child because you want to harvest her organs in order to save the other child, does this make you a good mother or a very bad mother?
“I told him I was going to betray you, and betray Lyra, and he believed me because I was corrupt and full of wickedness…. I wanted him to find no good in me and he didn’t. There is none. But I love Lyra. Where did this love come from? I don’t know; it came to me like a thief in the night, and now I love her so much my heart is bursting with it. All I could hope was that my crimes were so monstrous that the love was no bigger than a mustard seed in the shadow of them, and I wished I’d committed even greater ones to hide it more deeply still…”
Just because you’re a bad mother and a shitty person, doesn’t mean you don’t love your kid?
“She doesn’t really care what I do.” Matilda said a little sadly.
Matilda’s mother isn’t the biggest villain in the book. She’s nowhere near as bad as Matilda’s father or the Trunchbull. Mrs Wormwood’s greatest flaw is that she simply is not interested in her daughter. She values looks over what’s inside a person and as such has no time at all for her bookworm daughter, Matilda.
Flowers in the Attic – V.C Andrews (The Dollganger series)
“Blame the wind or stars of fate– I still blamed my mother.
Let me start by saying that there are so many messed up people in this series that it hardly seems fair to concentrate on the mother. Corrinne Foxworth’s betrayal of her children doesn’t come from a desire to harm her children. She is simply a spoilt, selfish child who refusd to learn to look after herself without a man. Thus, she could never look after her children and simply did whatever she had to to secure her own comfort. It’s Corrinne’s daughters that feel this betrayal most keenly.
“Now that children don’t till your fields or take you in when you’re incontinent, there is no sensible reason to have them, and it’s amazing that with the advent of effective contraception anyone chooses to reproduce at all.”
Obviously the main focus of the book is the relationship between Eva and her son Kevin. But Eva had a daughter, and I suspect Celia suffered her mother’s indifference also. This is a story about a mother who was never maternally inclined, and is a little up herself. She never really does anything particularly horrible to her children. She just doesn’t love them. The result is her mass-murdering son. Or is it? Would he have turned out that way even if she was the most loving and attentive of parents? Is Celia slow because her brother is horrible? Or is she just reacting to the tension in the house that comes from her mother’s relationship to her son? The story tends to horrify people because we expect mothers to love their kids no matter what. That simply isn’t realistic.
“The best thing she was, was her children.”
Beloved is a ghost story focusing on Sethe, a former-slave, who killed her baby girl because she couldn’t bear the thought of her children being enslaved by her former masters. Think about that for a moment. How revolting would your life have to have been that you would murder your children to save them from it? And if you survived such an act; how do you go on with your life? Unlike some of the other mothers on this list, Sethe’s actions are motivated by pure love for her children; which makes them all the more horrifying.
Some other titles that fit this theme
The Golden Child – Wendy James
Everything, Everything – Nicola Yoon
White Oleander – Janet Fitch
Mom & Me & Mom – Maya Angelo
Carrie – Stephen King (Is it wrong that I cheered when Carrie took out her mother?)