In the wake of US Supreme Court Justice Alito’s leaked drafted opinion regarding Roe v. Wade and Mother’s Day, which was yesterday, I am wondering: Does fiction about mothers and motherhood reveal more about our society and how it treats women than we readily acknowledge? Mothers in fiction are typically distraught, depressed, scared, prone to run away, etc.
How are mothers in fiction depicted in modern times?
Motherhood can be cause for much celebration, of course, but in modern-day fiction, it’s often a source of great anxiety and stress or great fear. For example, in The Push by Ashley Audrain, a mother’s young daughter apparently murders her younger son. Yet no one believes the main character, the mother, and they all chalk it up to her being unwell. And in Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple, the mother Bernadette runs away from home.
In most modern-day novels, mothers are demonized for all that goes wrong regarding their children and marriages or are entirely ignored or despised by other characters in the novels, especially their husbands. Or they are mentally ill or suffer from some form of substance abuse. Sure, we laugh that mothers drink a lot of wine, take Xanax and Vicodin and sleeping pills, and want to run away from their domestic lives at times. But, truly, why do most readers find this funny or amusing? And what does this say about how we understand the lack of evolution of domestic life for women and mothers in the twenty-first century?
It seems to me that what such modern-day novels are revealing is that mothers are expendable, or are the central cause for all ill and evil in the world. Or are still conditioned to think that they are. Yet somehow fathers and men in modern-day novels still don’t seem to bear the same burdens or responsibilities for children and domestic problems that mothers and women do. It’s as if we’re still living in Freudian times, where mothers are always to blame for everything bad that goes on in the world.
Additional sources regarding women in fiction
- Electric Lit. Why New Fiction Is Making Mothers into Monsters
- Salon. Mothers and monsters: On writing through the terror of parenthood
- Book Riot. Shirley Jackson and the Mundane Horrors of Motherhood
- crimereads.com. Tough Mothers: Seven Dark Novels About Motherhood
Motherhood in my fiction
I am currently planning to follow three generations of women in the current novel I’m writing. I want to confront and ultimately turn tropes that demonize women and mothers on their heads. And I want to make it clear that when women and mothers are misunderstood and dismissed, chaos and tragedy are more likely to ensue. Not the other way around. This might end up following current trends of motherhood in fiction, but perhaps not. We shall see!
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