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The Heroine in Fiction II

When we read or write about a. heroine in a fictional tale, it’s a good idea to have a reasonable idea of her life before the novel starts. We don’t need details, but it’s essential to know how she feels about being a woman and why. How will it impact the story?

A girl’s relationship to her mother is generally the most important one she ever experiences in regard to her knowledge of what the feminine is, and also whether she accepts or rejects the idea of the feminine. For the older generation, many mothers did not go out to work, were bound to home and babies, and were often denied, through financial or societal constraints, from using or pursuing their interests and working in jobs which they may have found rewarding. For women who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, the world of their mothers was changing; the idea of ‘working mothers’, previously a harshly critical term, became something to be proud of. After that, mothers engaging with full-time work became a simple economic necessity for most families.

How does a girl feel about her mother? This depends. There are two archetypes;

i) the Great Mother who symbolises unlimited sustenance and nurturing as well as protection,

ii) the Terrible Mother. the Terrible Mother who represents neglect and cruelty, as well as qualities such as smothering and possessiveness. Kali Ma is known to many of you as the Hindu Goddess of creation, preservation and destruction, so she covers a lot. Why would she be destructive? It is the usual reason; the result of the stifling of her creative energy and initiative. As the Destroyer, she becomes the Terrible Mother, possibly jealous of a daughter who represents a free growing entity, ready to move in whatever directions she wishes and still has her choices in front of her.

We are born dependant – the mother we are born to usually determines our first view of the feminine. This creates an attitude in us that we relate to the concept of what the feminine actually is, what it means to be a woman. For example, If a mother feels powerless and frustrated, the daughter is likely to unconsciously catch that feeling, so that she feels the same. She becomes unhappy about her own femininity, making her angry at her mother, herself, and her society. She may leave home (and she may have to do so) to set herself up as the opposite of her mother, so that she does not lose her power. Is this a story of your own heroine?

Separation from one’s mother is meant to be a difficult step in life, otherwise it does not lead to learning and independence. It has to be both a physical and a psychological deed; it is separation from both the particular mother as well as from the very idea of mother. Much of how easily or with how much difficulty this separation is achieved depends on the character and attitude of the individual mother - and daughter. For most girls/women separation is an intense experience which involves inner as well as outer conflict; this is complicated by the societal view which still persists, that they are expected to be less likely to leave home than boys, and to leave when older. Psychologically, if a girl has extreme difficulty separating from her mother, she may need to transform the image of her mother to focus on negative qualities that the mother may or may not really have.

Consider the wicked stepmother of fairy tales or the abundance of orphaned heroines in young adult literature; such strategies that make mother absent or not the real mother, neatly sidestep the difficult stage of separation. In real life, it is more angst ridden; sometimes it necessary for the daughter to see her mother as a being of real darkness before either of them can move on to a more balanced relationship.

Meanwhile it is only fair to consider mother in context – her constraints, the attitudes that were prevalent during her formative time, the support or lack of it that she received. Of course no mother is either completely good nor completely bad – no mother is the Good Mother or the Evil Mother - and most of us recognise aspects of both in our own parent.

Looking at the sort of background your heroine comes from in regard to this feminine paradigm and the image of mother that informs her emotional being, can add a lot of texture and depth to her character and its active development throughout your writing. Can any of the above help to pinpoint your heroine’s motivations or attitudes?


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