As yesterday was my wonderful mom's birthday, my recent reflections have centered around the influence of important women like her in my life. While it's perhaps cliché, my mom has made me into the person I am today, particularly in that she was the one who taught me a love for literature. I think when we consider those who've shaped us the most, we often neglect to consider those who did so from the pages of a novel - the women in our favorite novels. I am lucky enough to have the kind of mother who introduced me to them. And so today's post is dedicated to moms, both literary and otherwise.
“Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds.” - Marmee, Little Women
There is no character who fits the mold of the nurturing, compassionate, and idealized mother better than Marmee from Little Women. Like every young girl reading Alcott for the first time, I was mesmerized by her soft spoken, gentle nature coupled with deep inner strength. I longed to be like the lovably outspoken and passionately creative Jo, but I still recognized that the Jo's of this world could not exist without the guiding wisdom of a Marmee. The recent film adaption of the novel highlighted a quote from her that many of us Alcott enthusiasts had forgotten, "I am angry nearly every day of my life." When I saw the movie myself (for the first out of four times), I was helplessly enraptured by this line. How could Marmee possibly be characterized as deeply angry? And yet, it was Greta Gerwig's way of not-so-subtly reminding us of the innate imperfection of our beloved Marmee. Like the rest of us, she is only human. Even people who so closely embody authentic goodness are not without flaws, and just like us, they struggle with deep internal battles (they've just done a better job overcoming them). This lesson is no better applied than to moms.
"I love you as dear as my own flesh and blood and you've been my joy and comfort ever since you came to Green Gables." (37.21) - Marilla, Anne of Green Gables
Equally underrated are literary figures who embody the motherly role. Marilla can be prematurely interpreted as a caustic figure in the beginning of the novel, but her hardened exterior betrays her soft heart. Ultimately it is the wit, sincerity, and innocence of Anne that breaks down the walls she had surrounded herself with. In Marilla, we can all see parts of ourselves…the parts of our personality and life experiences that we hide deep within ourselves perhaps out of fear, shame, or grief. Often parental figures can seem to similarly hide a part of their identity and can come across as impersonal. It just takes an Anne to reveal deeper layers. As can be seen in the quote, it is often the most abrasive personalities that hide the strongest hearts, but like Anne, it can be easy for idealistic, expressive people to misunderstand and misinterpret who they are.
"Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world." - Anne, Anne of Green Gables
I am lucky enough that one of those kindred spirits happens to be my mother, and I am unendingly grateful for her alongside the many other women who have made me into the person I am. The romantic in me likes to think that a part of each of them exists inside me - the best books never quite end exactly for that reason.