Monstrous Mothers

Annette Bening playing the eponymous role in UCLA’s Live’s staging of Medea in 2009.

According to Jung’s archetypes there are really two types of women: good women and bad women.  The good woman archetype posits the female character is warm, nurturing, kind and generous.  The bad woman archetype is the complete opposite of the good woman.  I assert there’s a sub-set of the bad woman archetype known as the bad mother archetype.  This woman, besides being a cold, cruel and unfeeling bitch, usually also kills or attempts to kill her children.  The bad mother archetype crops up in zoology with some female animals killing their young, then in Greek mythology with Medea, moves over to step-mothers in European fairy tales, then back to mothers again in the New World with la llorona.

Before anyone gets all women’s study and start shouting about the demonization of women in storytelling and the mythos of perfect motherhood, let’s think about this archetype from a writer’s standpoint.  Not from a “I have a gender-based bias to uphold.  Oh, let’s create a story to do it!,” but a “How do I surprise and shock my audience?” point of view.  Granted, writers use their readers’ pre-conceived notions about women to upend them with Mom standing with a knife over her children’s lifeless corpses.  In fact, it could be said the writers who make use of the bad mother archetype empower women by showing they are equally as capable of murder and evil as men are.  Just sayin’.  Anyway, that’s a rabbit trail for another day.

The point being readers don’t expect women, especially mothers, to be capable of violent, bloody murder, particularly of their own children.  We as readers, assume women to be gentler and kinder than men with less violent tendencies.  As a writer, if you want to shock your readers, make your characters do something completely opposite of what is expected.  A writer would take this one step further and not only take the soft and gentle woman and make her a murderer but to make her a murderer of her own children.  This would achieve the drama, shock and tension the writer aims for in a dramatic story.

I offer this theory as just another way to interpret monstrous mothers in mythology.  I also think I should get double letter points for using the topic monstrous mothers on M day.  Just another thought.