It's Mother's Day, a day to pamper the lady who gave you life. It's quite a commercial enterprise, being one of the most popular days of the year to dine out at a restaurant in the United States and an occasion which generates a significant portion of the U.S. jewelry industry's annual revenue. Americans spend approximately $68 million on greeting cards, $1.53 billion of pampering gifts—like spa treatments—and $2.6 billion on floral arrangements. (National Restaurant Association and Society of American Florists figures)
Carnations, the traditional flower of Mother's Day
A bouquet of carnations is the traditional flower of Mother's Day. According to legend, this association goes back to the passion of the Christ. Upon seeing her son's suffering, his mother Mary shed tears, which fell to the ground. From these tears sprang the fragrant and beautiful carnations. According to Anna Jarvis, one of the pioneers of the Mother's Day celebrations in the United States, white carnations symbolized the virtues of motherhood: purity, faithfulness, love, charity, and beauty.
Hmmm, so then what would be an appropriate gift for the mothers we will now examine? Drum roll and a dead, rotting fish, please, for Ten of the Worst Mothers in Literary History (an entirely subjective list):
"The Other Mother" (Coraline: Neil Gaiman)
Coraline’s mother and father are so busy with household chores and work they don’t pay as much attention to Coraline as she would like. (Typical child!) When Coraline discovers a door that leads to a parallel version of her home and family, she meets her "Other Mother," who makes fabulous ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ meals and gives amazing gifts and showers affection on her. But when Coraline gets tired and wants to go back to her real home…things start to get creepy. “But this IS your real home,” says the Other Mother. Because everything IS better on the other side, provided Coraline is agreeable to having buttons sewn in place of her eyes…
"Zinnia Wormword" (Matilda: Roald Dahl)
Zinnia Wormwood is an oblivious, unpleasant, completely self-centered women who can’t recognize the special talents of her daughter, young Matilda, who teaches herself how to read at age three. She's much too wrapped up in watching television, playing Bingo and doing her nails. (Played to perfection in the film adaptation by Rhea Perlman)
"Mary Jones" (Push: Sapphire)
In the Harlem of 1987, Mary Jones is a callous and indifferent mother, consumed by watching daytime TV and psychologically dependent upon welfare. (And that's when she's being nice.) Ugh, the abuse dished out by this woman to her daughter Precious: physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, you name it. Gut-wrenching is too mild a description.
"Eleanor Iselin" (The Manchurian Candidate: Richard Condon)
Domineering Eleanor is not just a rotten mother, she's a traitor to her country as well. She's a ruthless power broker working with the Commies to execute a "palace coup d’état" to quietly overthrow the government, and install her hubbie, McCarthy-esque Senator Johnny Iselin, as a puppet dictator. The pawn? Her son, Raymond Shaw, who has been brainwashed into a "sleeper agent" political assassin. He's activated when he sees a Queen of Diamonds playing card. (Angela Lansbury aced her in the film adaptation.)
"Addie Bundren" (As I Lay Dying: William Faulkner
Here's a real sweetheart. Addie's a teacher who enjoys whipping her students. She resents having children, after all her "aloneness had been violated." She has an affair to rebel against her maternal duties. Turns out she only loves the son that results from this affair because he is hers alone, without any of her husband's taint. Even after she dies, she's still a stinker!
"Beth Jarrett" (Ordinary People: Judith Guest)
Here is one of the coldest of maternal fish. Beth is totally dedicated to maintaining the façade of her family's perfect life. So when her world starts to crumble around her-- her older son dies in a boating accident, then her younger son attempts suicide--she reacts by pretending none of it has happened. Well, honey, good luck with that! (Mary Tyler Moore nailed her in the film version.)
"Margaret White" (Carrie: Stephen King)
Poor Carrie probably has no chance of being normal for the getgo. Her mother Margaret is a religious whack-job who locks her in a "prayer closet" for hours at a time, makes her dress like a Puritan and never bothered to tell her about the facts of life. Once Carrie discovers and harnesses her telekinetic powers, she gets retribution on all the kids who bullied her by wreaking havoc at the senior prom. So what does Mama do? Stabs her with a butcher knife (apparently trying to cut the devil out of her). Then Carrie makes Mama's heart stop using only her mind. But in the end, as Carrie bleeds to death, who does she cry out for? Her mama. Which is proof that the mother-child bond is one thing that never dies.
"Charlotte Haze" (Lolita: Vladimir Nabokov)
Humbert Humbert's a monster. But what about Lolita's mother? She's an enabler first-class. When H.H. shows up looking for a room in her boarding house, the widow Charlotte Haze is so foolishly smitten with his Euro-trash airs that she is totally blind to his prurient interest in her way-underage daughter. Thinking her little romance with H.H. might be blossoming, she is only too anxious to get Dolores (aka Lolita) out of the house. Summer camp, boarding school, whatever! As long as it anywhere that's out of her mother's hair. True, this is H.H. telling the story, so we definitely have an unreliable narrator situation. But come on. I'm not seeing the love. Then, in a classic case of Karma, Ma gets creamed by a car (no pun intended).
"Corinne (mother) and Olivia (grandma)" (Flowers in the Attic: V.C. Andrews)
There are not one but two nasty mothers inflicting damage on innocent children this famous potboiler from the 1980's. After marrying her father’s half-brother against her family's wishes, Corinne Dollanganger is widowed, and forced to return to her estranged family home with her four children. Her mother Olivia agrees to let her move back in on the condition that Corinne hides the kids from Malcolm, her husband and Corinne’s father, until he dies. (He really had a problem with that marriage and any spawn that came out of it. The old incest thing again.) Instead of working it out on her own, she stuffs the spawn into an attic for years where they are generally ignored. Over time, they become malnourished, delusional, incestuous (apple and the tree?) and develop every social abnormality in the DSM. Oh yeah, she and grandma try to kill them off, too.
"Ingrid Magnussen"(White Oleander: Janet Fitch)
How does Ingrid fail her daughter Astrid? Let me count the ways, starting with cruelty, neglect, and abandonment. Of course, self-centered Ingrid wouldn't think of it as abandonment. After she murders her lover (for cheating), she's tried, convicted and hauled off to prison. But she didn't abandon her child on purpose! And then the poor child is foisted off on a series of foster homes, with each new mother worse than the last, in her own unique way. No carnations for this coven of "rhymes with witches."
Whew, what a pile of stink! Their stench is worse than alewives washed up on the shores of Lake Michigan in the summer. However, no Mother's Day would be complete without a special Hall of Shame Mother's tribute to the classics:
Murder, mayhem, mischief, and the original motherlover... crimes that only a *bad mother* could love!
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