Mothers in Literature
by Caleb Crossman
Mothers are pretty important. Aside from the biological function of propagating the human race, they comfort us, nurture us, and occupy a vital psychological role in our development. Or not—a lot of mothers are absent, especially in literature. Jem and Scout Finch are motherless, the Lost Boys are orphans (until Wendy comes along), and Heidi has no woman's gentling influence. But this absence doesn't mean mothers are unimportant; for these characters, the lack of a mother becomes a central concern.
Bad mothers are just as influential, and some of literature's most famous mothers are very bad. Cinderella's stepmother, the loquacious Mrs. Bennett, Grendel's dam, Coraline's "other mother"—it's a long list, and not very encouraging. The torments of wicked women are hard to forget, which may be the reason these characters are so prominent and often seem to outnumber the good mothers in well-known books.
But there are plenty of good mothers, too, though they often seem to hide behind their children, or to be so good as to be entirely unbelievable (Marmee from Little Women comes immediately to mind). The best mothers in literature are the most realistic, routinely sacrificing themselves for their children, their husbands and their ideals, but still human and fallible. These mothers are our favorites.
Women like Caroline Ingalls, whose hard work, high morals and good humor helped a pioneer family through the most harrowing conditions. Or Maria Trapp, whose submission to God meant submission to her husband and rebellion against a godless government. Or Mama from All-of-a-Kind Family, whose quiet diligence and gentle wisdom led five lovable little girls into maturity. Or Little Bear's mother, who never forgets his birthday. Or Frances the Badger's mother, who knows what Frances needs and what she wants. Or Ora Baxter, Maria Franzon, Marta Hanson, Sarah Wheaton, Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit, etc., etc., etc.
Mother's Day is this month and we thought it would be fun to celebrate mothers by finding some of the best ones in literature. It turned out to be harder than expected at first, until we started scanning shelves and realized there really are a lot of good moms in books. (Which ones are your favorites?) Maybe all those Google lists about "the worst mothers in fiction" impeded our (usually excellent) collective memory. Or maybe it's just more fun to remember the villains.
But it's no fun to have a villain for a mom in real life. None of us at Exodus have villainous mothers, and we are grateful. No one has a perfect mom, either—what would we do with one of those? It would be impossible to live up to her standards. Or maybe the definition of a perfect mom is one that understands her children's fallibility and does everything in her power to help them grow into self-controlled, capable and effective adults. If that's the case, we definitely do have perfect moms.
Hopefully books like the ones we're featuring will promote the celebration of mothers and motherhood long after the (rather arbitrary) May 8 date specifically set aside in their honor. Not that such holidays are in any way a bad thing—we just want to be sure we don't forget about Mom as soon as the meal is cleared (a meal which, if cooked by Dad and the kiddos, is even more evidence of her necessity). But by all means, be especially good to mom on Mother's Day; and for all you moms reading this, your family will be blessed if you let them do for you one day what you do for them all the rest.
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But the prize goes to Miss Pickwickian for One Man and the Bigger Picture of Auschwitz
(A review of Survival in Auschwitz posted 4/27/2011
"Primo Levi was captured in 1943 as a Jewish Italian working in the Resistance and imprisoned in the death camp of Auschwitz. This is his first book, a memoir of that year. Although not as lyrical as Elie Wiesel, Primo Levi is a very gifted writer. His book is disturbing, hopeful, and heart breaking.
There is a much larger picture in his account compared to other holocaust memoirs which is truly eye opening. Levi throws you right into the life of the Jews and Resistance with their wild confusion of languages, bartering, prison hierarchy, and mad scramble for survival. He gives vivid pictures of those who hold on to their identity, traditions, and sense of honor along side those who lose everything, including what we think of as basic humanity.
He uses an alarming amount of colons and writes in present tense eratically. Neither bothered me too much since it did have to survive translation and the present tense was powerful even when mixed with past. It was a good tool for a memoir like this. Most of his writing is quick, to the point, and poignant.
As expected, this book does have some questionable “adult” portions, but overall is very tastefully written.
The Jewish life is such a puzzle. I think it's an interesting study. Levi is proud of being Jewish, but I can't remember a single mention of God or faith. Near the ending of the book he does mention Providence and luck numerous times and hope for a miracle from the Bible. But nowhere does he mention faith or hope. How could you go through what he went through and come out human without Christ?
Primo Levi’s later books are perhaps better written and portray a more complete picture of Levi as a man and a believing Jew, but "Survival in Auschwitz" is a vital starting place for his works and look into a terrifying chapter in history.