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Some may say that the character Mildred Pierce of the novel, Mildred
Pierce by James Cain, may be a good role model for an entrepreneur or a
single working mother. Some may say that she was hopelessly devoted to
her ungrateful daughter, Veda. Some may also argue that Veda was a
terrible daughter who lacked compassion, sincerity, and most of all,
respect. As true as that may all be, the candlelight glowing about the
flawless, sugar-coated heroine shall be blown out. Fluorescent lights,
Mildred Pierce loved her daughter. Perhaps she had loved Veda too
much. One questions how a woman can love such a bitch - a coloratura
soprano. Could it have been another type of love? Mildred had an
exaggerated sense of self-importance. She felt the need for attention and
admiration from others, particularly Veda. Mildred Pierce took people for
granted or exploited them with an unusual coolness. Had Mildred Pierce
been a real person, and ever introduced to Sigmund Freud, the verdict
would be in. Mildred Pierce suffers from Narcissism. Another kind of
love, indeed! She simply had fallen in love with her reflection (as the
disorder was named for the mythological Narcissus, who fell in love with
his own reflection) - Veda Pierce, that is.
In 1991, Sophie Freud, granddaughter of Sigmund Freud, explained that
the narcissistic mother has a great investment in her daughters. The
survival of women greatly depends on loving, and whether she is loved.
Narcissistic actions are ambivalent. "In order to develop into a woman
[the narcissist mother believes] a daughter needs sufficient libidinal
resources to identify with her female partner [mother]..." (Fenchel).
Mildred Pierce fits the description. That must explain the sensual vibes
- but unfortunately Veda was not the type of daughter to want to identify
with her mother. Mildred's character ached for approval from Veda.
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"Love and Hate in James Cain's Mildred Pierce." 123HelpMe.com. 11 Dec 2019
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Whether she could afford Veda's material desires did not matter. Whether
Veda would hate her for it, did. Everything that Mildred possibly could
not do, she wanted for Veda. And yes, it is normal for parents to want a
better life for their children than they had, but putting up with snobbish
attitudes, constant denouncement, and utter disrespect is far from normal.
Biting back tears from verbal abuse, then soon finding the desire to blow
into the pajamas of her ill-mannered daughter, is also far from normal.
Cain mildly implies some sort of sensuality expressed by Mildred in some
of his passages. "There was something unnatural, a little unhealthy,
about the way she inhaled Veda's smell" (Cain). Cain does not declare
lesbianism, but the acknowledgement of "a different kind of love" is
expressed throughout the story.
A bad tree bears bad fruit. The actions of Miss Veda are not solely
her own fault. Mildred Pierce volunteered herself to be Veda's doormat.
Veda may step on her all she wanted, but no matter what, Mildred had
always read "WELCOME." "Women's investment in motherhood and mothering
inhibits the expression of negative emotions, as the risk of alienating
their adolescent and adult children is too high" (Cotterill). Children
misbehave when they have no strong guidelines. Children misbehave even
more when they are not punished for wrongdoing, or sometimes even rewarded
in some way from negative behavior. What kind of example had Mildred set
anyway? Hard-working, single mother, Mildred was. Entrepreneur, indeed
she was. But having "slept her way to the top," is not a good example to
set for an adolescent. Mildred had done what she did to give Veda a
better life, even if it meant having to seduce men. Mildred had short
"relations" with Wally. He got her the place for her restaurant. Veda is
the one who received credit for such a wonderful idea. Mildred had short
"relations" with Monty. He "loafs." Not quite her cup of tea, but she
put up with him, why? Monty was Veda's buddy. After a horrible display
of trying to escape from Monty, Mildred eventually comes back to him. She
purchases his house, which she could not afford. It was all part of a
plan to get Veda back. The going got tough, and the tough got going on a
misfortunate path of financial desperation. Mildred was broke and was at
risk of losing the business she worked hard and long for. Of course, she
would slit her own wrists before she would ask Veda for money - most of
which went to the tab Veda was running. Did Veda once offer to help? No.
Was she calm and understanding had Mildred not been able to afford her
material desires? No. Mother picks out the nicest clothes for Daughter
for their first visit to a renowned piano teacher. Is Daughter satisfied?
No, it's provincial. "Conflict is constructive as it helps the daughter
separate from the mother. At the same time the mother-daughter
relationship is used by the daughter as a safe arena in which to assert
her autonomy and identity as an independent being" (Cotterill).
Mildred Pierce has various twists and turns, especially pertaining to
the relationship of Mildred and Veda. One might question what keeps them
together until the very last pages. Veda's binding circumstance was the
lack of money to be 100% on her own. Mildred's binding circumstance was
that she had not (figuratively) severed the umbilical cord that once had
physically connected her and Veda.
It is hard for many parents to let their children go, but that habit
added to narcissism leads to bizarre results. Mildred had kicked Veda out
of the house, and then concocted a plan to get her back. After many years
of defending an ungrateful daughter, Mildred attacks Veda after
discovering that she was having an affair with her own step-father.
As bizarre as it all seemed, the question remains: When do they
finally let each other go? Veda lets go after acquiring enough money and
exhausts every possible publicity stunt that she can use her mother for.
Mildred finally lets go after realizing that the girl she had loved so
much would never stop betraying her. And though it took a great many
situations for her to have that revelation, Mildred was quite in control
of the situation all along. All it took was a single, bittersweet, "...To
hell with her." And the Narcissus broke her mirror.
Fenchel, Gerald H. PH.D. The Mother-Daughter Relationship: Echoes
Through Time. New Jersey: J. Aronson, Inc.,1998.
Cain, James. Mildred Pierce. New York: Alfred A Knopf,Inc., 1941
Phillips, Shelley. Beyond the Myths: Mother and Daughter
Relationships in Psychology, History, Literature, and Everyday Life.
London: Penguin Books, 1996. Ed. Pamela Cotterill. Staffordshire