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The Most Complex Mothers of Fiction

Beloved Books fiction film International Women's Month Mother's Day Mothers Sharp Objects The Babadook The Lost Daughter
The Most Complex Mothers of Fiction
written by
Nada Medhat

Motherhood isn’t just the oldest experience in humanity; it’s also one of the most complex. No one who isn’t a mother can understand everything it comes with. So in appreciation of everything mothers do for us, on Mother’s Day, we decide to celebrate motherhood by exploring some of the more complex—not necessarily best—mothers in fiction.

These mothers might not be great or even particularly good in nature, but they do embody the hidden sides of the motherly experience that people don’t really engage with. One thing’s for certain, though, engaging with these hidden sides would deepen our understanding, if only we dare look! 

The Lost Daughter- Film and Novel

A Netflix Original film, The Lost Daughter is based on the novel of the same name by the Italian Elena Ferrante. The story’s protagonist, Leda, finds herself alone for the first time in years after her two adult daughters leave home to live with their father in another country. So, she subsequently takes a vacation on the Ionian coast. What follows is a beautiful, if brutal, depiction of the not-so-good side of motherhood as well as an exploration of freedom and liberty, of sacrifices and regrets.

Like many other brilliant writers, Ferrante explores something that is often not more than a flicker by magnifying it to its highest state. The main character might not be the most likeable, but she’s a fascinating, complex, and sympathetic woman who’s bound to make us all feel a tad more grateful for the personal sacrifices our mothers have undergone for us!

Beloved – Novel

Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a book that goes beyond motherhood, though motherhood still takes a central role. Born into slavery, the book’s protagonist, Sethe, had a hardened life that changed her perceptions of life. Taking a merciful action that would be abhorrent and unnatural in any other context, this deeply complex character shows another facet of motherhood, which is essentially the core of the experience: Mothers going to the extremes to do what is best for their children, even if it might not look like it.

The Babadook – Film

As a horror film, The Babadook had access to the genre’s creatures to deepen and enrichen its theme. The two most defining moments of protagonist Amelia Vanek’s life happened on the same day. As she was giving birth to their son, her husband died. Since that day, the woman has lived in a perpetual state of unrest and depression, not eased by her son’s difficult behaviour or the horrible memories that his existence evokes. When the Babadook shows up, he brings everything to light. The struggle is fun to watch, like in any good horror film. However, the context of motherhood also makes it a symbolic, beautiful depiction of an unimaginable mental state. 

Sharp Objects – Book and Novel 

From the prolific writer of Gone Girl, an author known for her interest and explorations of anti-heroines, comes Sharp Objects. The psychological thriller follows a young journalist returning to her hometown to cover a story about a serial killer after two young girls meet unfortunate demises. The troubled, implicitly traumatised woman is tethered between the present and the past as she re-meets the critical mother she’d rather forget. The show and the book are explorations of a dark, complex mother-daughter relationship that is hard to define, and harder to categorise.