(2/19/01 8:58:31 am)
|why are all the mothers dead?|
I find it interesting that there are no mothers in a lot of fairy tales. Can someone perhaps tell me why?
(2/19/01 12:42:22 pm)
Hmmm...I know there are quite a few tales with dead mothers, at least in the European culture, but there are just as many where mothers are very much alive and kicking. African oral narratives have lots of mothers, in hero and heroine tales. Mothers have their own tales as well. Hero tales, even Europe also have lots of mothers--though occasionally absent fathers (for instance Telemechus in the Odessy). I think when mothers are often absent it is most often in heroine tales--tales where young women must make their own journeys to adulthood. The missing mother at the home of birth in many way creates an unstable and vulnerable place...one that usually becomes unsafe for the girl, forcing her out on her journey. Since exogamous society moves women away from their home of birth and out to the home of marriage (and unlike young men who return home to take their father's place), the absent mother, the increased vulnerability, might create the narrative precondition where the girl must leave home and strike out for the place that will eventually become a new home with marriage.
But don't discount the fantastic surrogate mothers along the way...they often point to the heroines positive connection with the fantastic.
(2/20/01 11:31:07 am)
There is also the historical interpretation that women were more likely to die in childbirth or of illness or accident so many girls would have lost their mothers before they had grown up. This would have put them in a vulnerable position, especially if their fathers remarried and new step-sisters or half-sisters joined the household, creating competition for dowries. Laura Mc
(2/20/01 12:26:50 pm)
I was about to say much the same thing as Laura regarding the likelihood of women to die in childbirth. But the question--and her answer--raises a point that I wonder about regarding many story elements (most of which have been psychoanalyzed to death), and that is: How do we sort the historical/social from the deep, visceral in fairy tales? The missing mother's a good example--does her absence reflect real life at the time the story was fashioned, or is it the result of the author(s) desiring a particular effect, and the absent mother is the most expedient shorthand element to get there?
And the punchline: How can we know?
(2/20/01 7:00:34 pm)
You know I was thinking about that as an issue too--the incidence of maternal death. And yet statistically looking at Renaissance Italy from 15-16th century, it is men who die in far greater greater numbers, and women were widowed so often as to generate a whole unique class almost--and earn for themselves a persona in Italian tales. I think that idea of maternal death seems more logical than it might be--it might be true in certain times, but it may not be overwhelming compared with paternal death. Remarriage was common for both sexes, blended families (early Afrikans familes often had 15-16 children as a result of blended families). I guess my point is, many mothers die in childbirth, to be replaced by a second mother in the remarriage--but husbands died (fathers)too and at times in higher statistical numbers. The step mother in Cinderella comes with two children from a previous marriage in tow. That may have been one of the most interesting things about "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister" was Maguire actually taking the time to ponder the disaster of the first marriage of the stepmother. I think that dead mothers is one image of vulnerability, but I think there are many others with the death of one or both parents (East of the Sun, West of the Moon--lots of Russian tales actually...also a handful of South African tales) so I go back to thinking that it has less to do with a nod to the high incidence of maternal death and more to the story teller creating in a narrative fashion a potentially vulnerable and unstable moment in the home of birth.
so Greg I'd have to agree with your insightful question...how do we carefully tease out of the narrative cultural, material data, versus the artistic use of highly evocative images (that have also acquired weight through their repetition in tales).
(2/21/01 10:18:34 am)
|More on maternal death|
You've certainly teased something out of the Renaissance suggesting it has more to do with storytelling and less with events going on about the teller. This was true in 18th-19th centuries, too. The mother was far less likely to die in childbirth than she was to lose at least a third of her children by the time they were 10. And that starts me wondering--the women who were fashioning the fairy tales in the first place (sorry, Perault, get over it) were in effect survivors. They must have dealt with dead children and dead husbands. Death was ubiquitous in many places, most lives. So the *mothers* are telling the stories. And perhaps it isn't so much a question of who is dead as it is a need that *someone* be dead, one parent or the other--determined of course by the nature of the story following that death. Cinderella probably doesn't come together with a reversal of the step-parent. As you say, it's the moment of crisis, instability and loss that need to be there.
It reminds me of something I say to students in writing classes: that by the time they're four years old, they have experienced all the emotions they need in order to write good fiction: love, abandonment, loss, fear, hope...
It's really the raw emotions on that level that are being tapped to potent effect.
(2/21/01 10:55:35 am)
|Re: More on maternal death|
Gregor and Midori,
All points well taken.
From a storytelling point of view, it is much more convenient to have the mother or father or both be dead. If they aren't, the child is more protected, the transition to adulthood more under control of the parents. The child, especially a girl (historically), is less able to make her own decisions and choices.
I have been wondering too if these tales were passed around by the younger women, a way of expressing their own hopes that they might be able to sneak away in the night and meet their prince, to have adventures outside their village or city, or to set out around the world to save their beloved. Laura Mc
Edited by: Laura McCaffrey
at: 2/21/01 4:53:55 pm
(2/21/01 2:58:51 pm)
|Both parents for protection...|
Yet, there are stories where both parents are present, yet that cannot protect the child in the tale. Rapunzel, the Luck Child (is that the title?), Sleeping Beauty are some I can think of where the parents cannot protect their children. In fact, it is because of the parents the children sometimes come to harm- Rapunzel's mother is so hungry during her pregnancy, her husband steals from the witch's garden, resulting in his promising his daughter's life to her; because the king and queen did not invite one fairy, their daughter is predicted to die, or at least have a really long nap; the luck child's parents unknowingly send him on a journey full of perils (which he is lucky enough to live up to his title and avoid harm). Are there others?