My mother felt that something was wrong, and displayed a lot of sympathy, which tortured me because I couldn’t repay her with my confidence. One evening when I was already in bed she brought me a piece of chocolate. She asked what was wrong with me, and stroked my hair. I could merely blurt out: “No! No! I don’t want anything.” She put the chocolate on the night table and left.
Emil Sinclair in Demian by Hermann Hesse
The problem with Sinclair’s mother is the same with many literary mothers—they are shallow. They are one-dimensional saints, sinners, or shadows.
Why is that with literary mothers? Either they are perfectly wise like Marmee in Little Women or they are perfectly silly like Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice.
Demian’s mother, Frau Eva, is an exalted guru who guides Sinclair on his journey to adulthood; she’s exceedingly deepeeboo, but that is all she is. I had great hopes for Anne Shirley to be a complex, interesting mother; but all motherhood did for her was relegate her to the background, like a beautiful dish of fine china displayed for special occasions.
Perhaps I am mistaken. After all, I haven’t read every book about mothers. However, of the ones I have, mothers do not come off very well. I wonder if mother-characters are a nuisance to create. I’m going to have to explore this issue further. If my premise is that literary mothers are shallow, then I can do them justice by giving the matter a thorough analysis.