It may be a couple of days past Mother’s Day, but every day is a good day for celebrating moms, right? In addition to the wonderful women in my life – my mother, grandmother, sisters, and neighbors – I’ve been raised by a number of literary mothers. These women have taught me the value of courage, kindness, hard work, self-improvement, and having an open heart, and I love them as if they were real. Here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order.
A WRINKLE IN TIME
by Madaleine L'Engle
Dr. Murry is a brilliant microbiologist who sets an example of hard work, passion, courage, and love for her four wildly different children. She loves awkward Meg, athletic and level-headed twins Sandy and Dennys, and wise Charles Wallace equally and individually. She treats them as rational thinkers and speaks to them with respect as well as warmth. She also immediately welcomes Calvin O’Keefe into the family, sensing that the popular boy comes from an unstable home. Even with her husband missing, Dr. Murry keeps the family together and provides a loving, stable home. She makes delicious stew over the bunson burner, comforts Meg, and conducts experiments in her home lab all at the same time, and that’s pretty darn impressive.
by Louisa May Alcott
Marmee’s a “tall, motherly lady, with a ‘can-I-help-you’ look about her which was truly delightful.” Is there a more quintessential mother in all of literature? I adore Marmee. It’s not because she’s longsuffering and calm and perfectly good. Instead, I love her for the conversations she has with her daughters when they’ve made mistakes. Her love is unconditional, but she gently helps them understand themselves, to make amends, and to grow. Because she loves them, she guides them to be better than they are. She’s not focused on her daughter’s achievements, but she’s determined to help develop their character.
Tangent: I will forever feel annoyed that someone addresses Marmee as Abigail in the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women. Her name is Margaret! Meg is named after her! If the filmmakers had really loved Marmee, they would have known that.
No, I’m not going to get over it. You can’t make me.
by Emma Donoghue
I expected Room to be a more disturbing book than it was. After all, it’s narrated by a little boy who has never been outside of the hidden underground room where his mother is held captive by a brutal abuser. Because of Ma’s great love for Jack, however, the boy is happy, and the story is often surprisingly gentle. Ma creates structure for their days, plays with Jack, teaches him, makes sure he receives the exercise and nutrients he needs, and protects him from her captor. When Ma decides it’s time to escape, she helps Jack make the difficult transition to understanding there’s a world outside their room. Her situation is horrifying, but she endures it with incredible courage for the sake of her son.
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE
by J.K. Rowling
You knew Molly would be on this list, right? She’s warm, fiery, funny, and kind. As much as I love her relationship with her own children, who she treats with equal amounts adoration and exasperation, I’m even more touched by her love for Harry. The moment where Harry receives his first Christmas sweater and a box of home-made fudge from Molly after a lifetime without a real Christmas present leaves me a little teary. In spite of the Weasley’s financial struggles, she takes the orphaned boy into her family with all her giant heart. She’s also an excellent cook and knitter and hug-giver. And then there’s that famous line when Bellatrix almost kills Ginny…
Molly’s the best.
THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES
by Sue Monk Kidd
August may not have her own biological children, but she unquestionably has a mother’s heart. When heartbroken Lily stumbles into her life, she takes the girl into her home, where she already takes care of her two sisters and a beekeeping business. She knows who Lily is instantly, but waits for the girl to reveal her identity in her own time. A former teacher, August is intelligent and knowledgeable, nurturing without being pushy, and a wonderful combination of independent and community-oriented. She becomes the ballast and mother figure Lily has spent her life longing for, and she beautifully represents the power of female relationships.
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Initially, Marilla Cuthbert is gruff and unkind toward sensitive Anne. She intended to adopt a farmboy, so the dreamy, trouble-prone little girl is only a source of frustration. Marilla’s softness and sense of humor gradually appear, however. Her love for her brother is apparent from the beginning, and she relents about keeping Anne at Green Gables for his sake. Though she remains a strict disciplinarian, Marilla and Anne smooth out each other’s rough edges; Anne becomes more practical and disciplined under Marilla’s teaching, and Marilla becomes gentler and happier. After Matthew’s death (which will never stop breaking my heart), Marilla finally opens up in the most beautiful way:
“We’ve got each other, Anne. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t here – if you’d never come. Oh, Anne, I know I’ve been kind of strict and harsh with you maybe – but you mustn’t think I didn’t love you as well as Matthew did, for all that. I want to tell you now when I can. It’s never been easy for me to say things out of my heart, but at times like this it’s easier. I love you as dear as if you were my own flesh and blood and you’ve been my joy and comfort ever since you came to Green Gables.”
Don’t you just love Marilla?
by Kathryn Stockett
"Taking care a white babies, that's what I do, along with all the cooking and cleaning. I done raised seventeen kids in my lifetime. I know how to get them babies to sleep, stop crying, and go in the toilet bowl before they mamas even get out a bed in the morning." Having lost her own son, Aibileen Clark is more mother to her charge than the white mother she works for. As THE HELP unfolds, she develops a special relationship with toddler Mae Mobley. After spending three years trying to protect the little girl from her mother's neglect, criticism, and racism, Aibileen decides to counteract all that unkindness with active words of love. We all know her motherly affirmation: "You is kind. You is smart. You is important."
Books and the characters within them can profoundly shape the way we view the world. I'm so grateful for the inspiring mothers I've found in a lifetime of reading and for all that they've taught me. So here's to the mothers, both literal and literary!