Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Meditation on Dead Mothers (in Books I've Been Reading)

I omitted one vital thing when I was recapping my 2010 Year in Reading: I forgot to talk about the dead mothers. At the beginning of 2010, in my Very LeFreak review, I noted that
It seems like I've been reading a ton of books lately that feature dead mothers (despite my great dislike of that trope), so I'm making that statistic an official part of my book reviews for 2010. At the end of the year, we'll see if I managed to read more books with living mothers than dead.

Reader, I did manage it! Only nineteen (40%) of the books I read featured a dead mother. You would think that it probably helped that I read some nonfiction and some romance novels, rather than all young adult or children's books, where it is expedient to get parents out of the way before the real action starts. However, if I consider only the YA and children's books that I read, the 40% statistic still holds true. And while nearly half of the books I read had dead mothers in them, there were only a few (I'm looking at you, Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks) in which a mother's death was the pivotal point of the story. There were, however, three books in which at least two mothers died or were dead: The Scorpion, The Drowning City, and The Virgin Bride Said, "Wow!" Books in which it seemed likely that mothers would die, but surprised me by keeping them alive, included [Spoiler Alert for the remaining few] The Help and Catching Fire/Mockingjay.

As I read, I refined my definition of "dead mother"--as a statistic--to mean books in which the existence of a dead mother had some material bearing on the plot or a main character's growth. There were some books (The City & The City or Above Temptation, for example) where it simply was not mentioned whether the main character had parents at all, much less whether they were alive.

In conclusion, I feel that it is vitally important for me to keep recording this statistic as I read. I obviously need to expand my sample size as much as I can by reading as many books as possible in 2011 (that may possibly have been my goal anyway) that are chosen through my usual random selection process. I am a big fan of completely non-scientific and subjective studies that require me to read for fun. On a more serious note, as I have said before, it's a good thing for me to have to deal with the uncomfortable emotion that can be caused by the "dead mother" trope. I have a feeling that my own mother would have read silly posts like this one and smiled.

Meditation Index


booksNyarn said...

I am sure she would. :)

Kara Schaff Dean said...

I have similar issues with books about Dad fathers....

I blogged about this issue myself at the end of 2010, because I happened to read a string of books with dead mothers in them. I decided that in children's literature it is better to have no parents left alive at all. For some reason it is far less traumatic than having one surviving parent. Go figure.

Great post, btw :)