Essay on We Need A Word For Motherhood

Essay on We Need A Word For Motherhood

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"[M]otherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn 't care whether there was a word for it or not," Addie Bundren reflects from beyond the grave in As I Lay Dying (171). Though she can hardly be considered the paragon of motherhood, Addie 's words have a degree of truth to them which can be interpreted in more than one way. Perhaps mothers don 't need a word for motherhood because their experience is one that transcends language. Or perhaps it is only men and childless women who care about defining motherhood, because those who are mothers have realized "that living [is] terrible and that this [is] the answer to it," and thus have no desire to concern themselves with the definition of a meaningless term (As I Lay Dying 171). The latter appears to be the case for Addie, whose favoritism and passive aggressiveness lead to the horrible neglect of almost every one of her five children, but specifically of her only daughter, Dewey Dell. In contrast, Ellen Sutpen 's understanding of the terribleness of living and her own dysfunctional relationships lead her to seek happiness in an illusory world of wealth and status, to the neglect of her only daughter Judith. Both mothers, whether they realize it or not, are communicating to their daughters, even through the lack of communication, a twisted understanding of what it means to be a woman and a mother.
"I gave Anse the children. I did not ask for them," Addie calmly explains, making it clear that motherhood was not an aspiration of hers to begin with (AILD 174). Even so, her explanation of Dewey Dell 's birth is particularly aloof: "I gave Anse Dewey Dell to negative Jewel" (AILD 176). It seems that in Addie 's eyes, the...


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...ously pass on a distorted understanding of femininity – either as bitter but resigned passivity, or as voluble, vapid irrelevance. This shapes both daughters ' perceptions of what it means to be a woman and a mother, whether they realize it or not. Dewey Dell subconsciously emulates her mother resigned acceptance of intolerable social conditions. Judith, while forced to face reality even when her mother cannot, engages in a similar sort of emotional disconnect in order to cope with her lot, "dreaming, not living, in her complete detachment and imperviousness to actuality" (AA 55). While it may seem that Faulkner is painting a dismal and disparaging picture of motherhood, in actuality he is affirming the deep need for caring, thoughtful, and emotionally engaged mothers, by presenting scenarios in which they are absent and demonstrating the devastation that follows.

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