Why Are Fictional Moms Sick Or Dead?
Did Hermione Granger really say “I can’t” during the climactic battle in the final chapter of the Harry Potter film saga? Presented with her chance to destroy one of the horcruxes she had put her life on the line to hunt, she backs away and needs her almost-boyfriend Ron to insist that of course she can.
The transformation of a brave, adventurous girl into a young woman who becomes weakened by, or defined by, her sexuality, has a long literary tradition. The next step, it seems, is to become a mom who is sick or dead.
I discovered this pattern one year when I let fiction take over my usual nonfiction reading habit.
In The Sound and the Fury we meet adventurous, determined and nurturing little Caddy Compson who is busy exploring the local countryside, climbing trees and sometimes bossing her brothers. Later, she becomes a promiscuous woman, shamed and rejected by her family. And the mother in this story? She’s a neurotic hypochondriac.
Faulkner introduces us to a mother who is dying, and later dead, in the appropriately titled, As I Lay Dying. Her daughter is upset and fixated on her out-of-wedlock pregnancy (instead of her dying/dead mom).
In Atonement creative young Briony Tallis has an over-active imagination that leads to serious trouble. Her older cousin gets raped, and her older sister is overcome by romance. Mom is constantly bedridden with headaches.
Plain Song revolves around a shy 17-year-old whose mother kicked her out after learning she was pregnant. Two young boys have a mom who spends her days locked away, depressed.
I could go on, but you get the point.
If strong, adventurous girls grew up to become strong, adventurous young women,who were also sexual, that would be fine. But too often, sexuality diminishes them or becomes the only thing they’re about.
Maybe that explains why older women (moms) end up sick or dead. Upon reaching womanhood the grown girl leaves behind everything that had empowered and engaged her to become defined by her sexuality. When her allure fades, there’s nothing left.
Which suggests a lesson for real live women. Best to avoid a one-dimensional focus on sexuality that rests on narrow beauty notions. Instead, stay strong and develop many facets of yourself, including an ageless and radiant beauty and sexuality (a la Meryl Streep and Hellen Mirren, et al) to enjoy over a lifetime.
Posted on April 5, 2013, in feminism, gender, objectification, psychology, sexism, women and tagged feminism, fiction, gender, girls, Harry Potter, Hermione, psychology, sexism, women. Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.