Friday, August 1, 2014

Dysfunctional Mothers

In Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, Mary Edwards Wertsch writes about the difficulties faced by military mothers, among them isolation (due to frequent re-locations and the deployment of the father) and alternating bouts of too much responsibility for the family when the father is away, and too little control when he is home.  The effects on children can be difficult: they are forced to grow up too soon, to be adult partner to their lonely mother, or they are subject to her depression, or they resent her powerlessness and inability to challenge the father when he does come home.

Military Brat Ian McEwan's work is filled with mothers who languish or suffer (Atonement), or force their children to be either too grown up (The Cement Garden) or too infantalized ("The Cupboard Man"). 

Suzanne Collins is also a Military Brat, raised on US military bases and in Belgium.  A distinctive feature of The Hunger Games is how dysfunctional Katniss's mother is in the first volume of the series.  Floored by the death of the father in a mining accident, her depression means Katniss and Prim nearly starve to death until Katniss grows up (too soon) and starts providing for her family.

Quenby Wilcox writes insightfully of the difficulties inherent in being a "Trailing Spouse" for business or other purposes.  Are there studies indicating the effect of non-Military "trailing" mothers on their TCK children?  Certainly fiction indicates that the mother's relationship to her children is profoundly influenced by international transitions, and that children sometimes wind up  in suffocatingly close relationships with their mothers, or devastatingly remote ones.

Other TCL examples (bios for many of the authors below in previous posts):

Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal writes about mothers as interchangeable, as though there is one archetypal Mother and all of the world's various embodiments are merely a single actor playing the role a number of different ways, with different costumes: "The saxophone teacher marvels privately at this woman's performance, this single unitary woman who plays all the mothers so differently, each performance a tender and unique object like the veined clouding on a subtle pearl" (146).  This is strange, right? No child gets their own mother, everyone just gets Mother, and that role is played by an actor, someone invested in performing the part, not in embodying motherhood.

In John Wray's Lowboy, Yda/ Violet is "obsessed with her own son" (157).  She's jealous of his friendships, and seeks to isolate him.

Michael Ondaatje (Ceylon, the UK, Canada) writes The Cat's Table, in which an 11-year-old boy  has been left in Ceylon, but finally travels to England to re-unite with his mother after "four or five years" (264).  The separation is long and so complete the boy doesn't know exactly how long it is, and he isn't sure if he and his mother will even be able to recognize each other.

Penelope Lively  (Egypt, England) writes a novel in which the suicide of a young woman is ultimately traceable, at least in part, to her mother's early death.  The Photograph, is, incidentally, another example of a TCL work with many perspectives given of the same thing.  In this case the thing is a photograph of long-dead Kathleen and her sister's husband.  Various perspectives on this photograph and what it meant, how and when it happened, if it mattered and why comprise the novel.

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