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Motherhood in Literature

Professor Steven Peacock English 1000 29 November 2010 The Joy of Motherhood The moment the child is born, the mother is also born. She never truly existed before, even though she has been carrying the child for nine months. The woman existed, this is certain, but the mother was an unknown character. A mother is something new, along with the new life she holds in her arms. The mother must learn to do just this, mother. Some mothers are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same, and most mothers kiss and scold together.

Throughout the years, mothers have been the inspiration and have been portrayed in many different types of work including film, poetry, novels, short fiction and more. Two works studied this semester present two very different mothers that, despite their differences, share many motherly qualities. The mothers in question are from “To a Daughter Leaving Home” by Linda Pastan and “Rules of the Game” by Amy Tan. While Tan’s depiction of the mother is more strict, stern and disciplining, Pastan’s motherly figure is concerned, in a loving manner, and open to the hard changes that lie ahead.

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By comparing and contrasting the events from the stories that each mother faces, these two fictional mothers’ weaknesses and strengths will be highlighted. It’s been said that a mother’s love cannot be compared to any other form of love. However, the forms of love a mother uses can be compared to raise positive and negative aspects. It is evident that both mothers, from Pastan’s poem and Tan’s short story, each love their daughters very much. One way of demonstrating this is the fact that both mothers take time to assist their daughters in some sort of task.

Meimei’s mother took her to her chess tournaments where she “wore the triumphant grin” (Tan, p. 717). “When [she] taught [her] at eight to ride a bicycle” (Pastan, l. 1-3), the mother was involved in teaching and playing with her young daughter. Both stories are looking back in time, “When I taught you at eight to ride a bicycle” (Pastan, l. 1-3) and “I was six when my mother taught me the art of invisible strength” (Tan, p. 712). This shows how a mother’s life lessons will not be forgotten. Through thick and thin, these two mothers demonstrate hat they share a similar love of parenting and mothering their daughters. Every mother is different in one way or another. Each mother of the two works demonstrates this fact quite well. On one hand, the mother in Tan’s short story is shown as being controlling of her daughter. Also, she is quite strict and stern with Meimei, sometimes speaking “in a dry voice. ‘We not concerning for this girl. This girl not have concerning for us’” (Tan, p. 719). This mothers style of parenting is reflective of her Chinese culture and own upbringing.

Beckoning her daughter to the market with her one Saturday morning, the mother of the story shows off Meimei which leads her daughter to feel used. This feeling of betrayal leads Meimei to disrespect her mother. However, after thinking over the situation, Meimei learns a lesson taught from her mother. Respect is a hard thing to earn; therefore, Meimei must work hard to regain it from her loved ones who had worried about her. On the other hand, the mother in Pastan’s poem seems less controlling, more gentle and tender.

Although we do not have as much information on the mother-daughter relationship as we are given in the Amy Tan story, it would be easy to assume these motherly characteristics. Reading about the mothers worry and of the “surprise when you pulled ahead down the curved path of the park” (l. 8-10), it is clear to see that this mother is finding it difficult to watch her daughter leave and ultimately grow away from her. This could lead the readers to believe they have a very close relationship with one another.

It is clear that Meimei and her mother were not close; however, there was a large amount of respect and love between mother and daughter. Serving as a metaphor, the daughter riding the bicycle in Pastan’s poem would in fact refer to the daughter leaving home for the first time, either going off to school or leaving to embark on a new life journey. The Amy Tan story is more focused on the real time passing of this particular period of time in the mother-daughter relationship in the Jong family.

Washington Irving had once said, “A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavour by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts. ” A mother is one of the most essential women in a girl’s life. Nothing can compare to the love, lessons and advice in a daughters life. Teaching how to be strong and independent, a mother is a key role model for their daughters.

In Amy Tan’s “Rules of the Game,” Meimei learns much about her Chinese culture from her mother who chooses to parent in a more strict manner. In Linda Pastan’s metaphorical poem “To a Daughter Leaving Home,” the relationship of mother and daughter is not discussed. These two mothers share the love of their children, along with difficulties in letting go or giving more freedom to their daughters. The two mothers share some important motherly attributes; however, the differences between them are quite significant. As these two stories capture these mothers in very different stages of life, it is easy to find differences in their parenting.

While Amy Tan’s motherly character is still raising a young lady, Linda Pastan’s has finished this stage of her motherly job and is saying goodbye to her young woman. Both mothers carry their daughters through hard times and help guide their way through life, as every mother does and will continue to do. Works Cited Pastan, Linda. “To a Daughter Leaving Home”. The Norton Introduction to Literature. Shorter 10th ed. Ed. Alison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2010. 702. Tan, Amy. “Rules of the Game”. The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Shorter 7th ed. Ed. Richard Bausch and R. V. Cassill. New York: Norton, 2006. 712-19.


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