The Mother-Daughter Relationship in Fiction

Jeanette’s mother is a powerful woman in her home and church and forcibly puts forward her views. She is selfish and ruthless and sulks if God does not concur with her will for destruction – making her an outside target for mockery. Jeanette is a pawn in her mother’s “tag match against the rest of the world”  She does not let her maternal role hinder her career in the church.

It is only with Jeanette’s shock revelation of Lesbianism that her mother seems to change a little nearer the end of the novel: Her awareness that “oranges are not the only fruit” seems to suggest she has changed her one mindedness, especially as she becomes more like Elsie in the end and is able to express love and acceptance to Jeanette; However she will always be at war with the world and homosexuality with always be demonised and could never be accepted in the eyes of the lord “I love you almost as much as I love the Lord.

” We see the constraints in Jeanette and her mother’s relationship when Miss Jewesbury has forced Jeanette’s mother to get medical attention for Jeanette’s deafness.

Her mother has little comfort and simply writes her a letter “prods”  and leaves her alone. Her mother’s devotion and infatuation with the missionary has forced Jeanette to originally believe she was filled with “the Holy Spirit” however, when medical authority overrules this Jeanette feels her mother’s abandonment.

Jeanette’s mother offers little maternal care and brings oranges as a substitute for the maternal longing Jeanette wants and the short, bluntness of “So I was alone.

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” emphasises the isolation Jeanette feels. The lack of involvement and emotional distance in this family’s personal relationship is iterated by the fact that Jeanette’s mother could not attend and would send her husband “usually with a letter and a couple of oranges”. The use of the word “husband” also could be an expression of Jeanette’s sense of her father’s insignificance in terms of his influence in the family, or source of support.

The final mother-daughter relationship we are made slightly aware of is that of Ruby’s and her “little nut-brown girls”. Ruby as a mother in present generation is able to rule her individual life, the expectance of women’s roles through the generations are all contrasted here as Ruby gains her own confidence to be the mother figure she always aspired to be, and has the courage to, when she realises she’s “leading the wrong life”  completely start again and thus not become the “foolish mother”  bringing the whole cyclic focus of the book to an end – the endless repetitive cycle of family history is finalised with the notion that women now have the chance to change roles from a “martyred wife” to ending the novel on a strong confirmation of personal identity; “I am alive. I am a precious jewel. I am a drop of blood. I am Ruby Lennox”.

In OANTOF the main character, Jeanette, and her mother are engaged in a quest to attain a sense of identity beyond the limitations placed on them as relatively poor women in a male dominated, class prejudiced society. Both women are put in a place of lesser importance and unaware segregation – Jeanette for her sexuality and her mother because of her faith. This indifference from society causes them to be almost in exile – also seen in BTSATM – but their sense of being “called to be apart”  simultaneously enables them to forge an identity for themselves in defiance of the culturally, compulsory prescribed roles for women of the time.

Jeanette and her mother could be said to be orphaned as her mother was abandoned by her middle class family when she marries Jack, and Jeanette is given up for adoption. This seems the opportunity for self-creation, as it does for many of the orphaned characters of nineteenth century fiction, among them Jane Eyre, whose life story seems to echo that of the ‘real’ and imagined stories of Jeanette and her mother.

The tale of Jane Eyre is essential in understanding the key themes and meaning of OANTOF as Jeanette’s mother is able to revise the plot to perfection, it seems, however we later learn how this account is a flawed perception in order to shelter Jeanette from the realities of sin outside the missionary – Jane Eyre (in Jeanette’s mothers version) marries the ambitious missionary St John Rivers rather than the passionate almost ‘Byronic hero’ Rochester, this could be interpreted as Jeanette’s mothers plan for a devoted life to the missionary for Jeanette.

The opening of the book immediately engages the reader and makes us aware of the strong sense of Jeanette’s mother’s personality and outlook on life; “my mother liked to wrestle; it didn’t matter what. She was in the white corner and that was that”  this quote suggests that the novel will deal with typical issues of growing up in a nuclear family. The dual narrative Winterson uses here mocks Jeanette’s mother’s doctrinaire, narrow minded views and is expressed through a typically childlike list of friends an enemies – reducing Jeanette’s mother’s status and importance.

Jeanette’s mother’s confrontational attitude is demonstrated by the fact she “wanted the Mormons to knock on the door” (p. 3) so that she could “wrestle” with them. Automatically we realise Jeanette’s mother’s struggle with the “Rest of the World” to assert her devout convictions. We see the difficulty in Jeanette and her mothers relationship in that we are, significantly, not only told that Jeanette was on her mother’s list of friends “only at first”, but the layout of the text reinforces Jeanette’s relegation of ‘me’ predictably to the enemies list; It is this anticipation of the plot that prepares the reader for mother-daughter conflict.

Jeanette will only stay on the friends list if she conforms to her mother’s plan for her to become a missionary. Her mother’s desire for power and influence is mocked here as she aspired to be the first virginal pregnancy; “she was very bitter about the Virgin Mary getting there first” (p. 3). There is much irony directed against Jeanette’s mother due to the comparison between her bitterness and selfishness against the sympathetic qualities of the Virgin Mary. Winterson uses the Bible to undermine its authority and her mother’s views;

“We had no wise men because she didn’t believe there were any wise men, but we had sheep”. Both novels employ an immediacy structurally to highlight the nuclear dysfunctionality – for example both books start the central theme on their first pages, even by a Foetal Ruby. Ruby in BTSATM illustrates her father’s drunkard like qualities and unloving routine like quality to the act of making love with her mother as he “rolls off” her mother and “plunges into a dreamless sleep thanks to the five pints” (p. 1). This structural immediacy is seen in OANTOF also as the first page sets out the tone for the rest of the novel and includes humorous narrative in order to mock her mother and her innate combative nature.

Jeanette’s father, Jack, contrasts his wife strongly in that he is the ‘Joseph’ to her ‘Virgin Mary’. He occasionally will rebel against his wife’s authority, for example watching the wrestling on a Sunday – however he is still presented as a passive figure to her mother. Jeanette feels sympathy for her “poor dad” (p. 11) and realises his dissatisfaction and inferiority to her mother, “he was never quite good enough” (p. 11) and “did not push himself” (p. 8). His absence from the majority of the novel illustrates the unimportance of him as a source of paternity.

Both fathers’ are rarely mentioned in both novels, representing the authors’ feelings as fathers being the lacking role, the two books can almost be seen as feminist in this respect. In conclusion both texts have obvious similarities in relation to the representation of family relationships, as both Atkinson and Winterson use two mother’s struggles with society to exaggerate their dysfunctionality within their family and both mother’s also suffer from the yearning for another man, with Jeanette’s mother wanting Pastor Spratt and Bunty wanting the life she was about to have before being deserted by her fianci? However there are differences also in that Jeanette learns from her mother’s authoritative confidence in qualities to help herself with her lesbianism whereas Ruby learns from her mother’s mistakes, and vows to change her life unlike her mother did.

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The Mother-Daughter Relationship in Fiction. (2017, Jul 08). Retrieved from

The Mother-Daughter Relationship in Fiction
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