Post two: Mothers and children

The first part of my research involved a lot of reading. I started with the shortest text — Ovid’s Heroides VII. While only a few pages long, this dramatic letter is packed with meaning. In typical Ovid style, what is left unsaid is often just as important as what is stated directly. Since Dido’s character is most well known from the Aeneid, Ovid assumes that his reader is familiar with this text. This familiarity with the character highlights any differences between Vergil’s telling and Ovid’s. The latter author takes full advantage of this, giving the reader a big surprise in the middle of the text — Dido’s pregnancy:

“Forsitan et gravidam Didon, scelerate, relinquas / parsque tui lateat corpore clausa meo” (you abandon both pregnant Dido, wicked man, / and the part of you hidden in my body, Ovid VII.137-138).

Naturally, Dido’s state makes the reader more sympathetic to her plight. However, it also makes her suicide much, much worse. She kills both herself and her unborn child. Perhaps this is an indication that she loves Aeneas more than her future offspring, since she chooses death over life without him. Reading this made me wonder about the influence of children in Anna Karenina and Gone With the Wind. Did their authors also use motherhood in their characterization of these female protagonists? For Anna, being a mother is both a joy and a source of great suffering. She has a son, Seryozha, by her legal husband and a daughter, Annie, by her lover Count Vronsky. She wishes to divorce her husband and marry Vronsky, but knows that this will result in total separation from her son. If she wishes to keep her son, she must give up Vronsky and vice versa:

“It is only those two beings that I love, and one excludes the other. I can’t have them together, and that’s the only thing I want. And since I can’t have that, I don’t care about the rest. I don’t care about anything” (Tolstoy 726).

Anna kills herself a mere 150 pages after this observation. Unlike Dido, she bears equal love for her son and for her lover. After her death, both children go to her legal husband, illustrating how instrumental they were in Anna’s agonizing social situation.

Scarlett O’Hara is also a mother. She bears a son to her first husband, whom she does not love and who shortly leaves her a widow. She has no love for her first son, Wade Hampton, just as she had no love for his father:

“She had very little interest in Wade and sometimes it was difficult to remember that he was actually hers” (Mitchell 144).

For Scarlett, hardly more than a child herself, Wade may as well not exist. It is her second child, Ella, who causes problems for her. Scarlett’s third husband, Rhett Butler, loves her passionately, but that love is not returned. Once Ella is born, he transfers all his unrequited love to her. By the time Scarlett realizes that she does love Rhett, it is too late. Ella has died in a tragic accident and his love has died with her.

It is fascinating to see how these three women deal with their roles as mothers. All three of them end up with children by men who are not their current husbands. In their various strict societies, this is severely frowned upon. The children add to the desperation of their situations — for Dido, acting as a reminder of the man who is abandoning her; for Anna, standing in the way of a socially acceptable life with the man she loves; for Scarlett, taking all the love of the man who has nothing left for her. These children both tie their mothers to the men in their lives and separate them. In my research, I will continue exploring how each of these women deal with motherhood and other similar roles they undertake.




  1. mdelbianco says:

    Hi Rachel,
    I found your post quite interesting! After reading this unique perspective of maternal relationships, I thought, perhaps the mother’s relationship with her child is a direct reflection of hers with her significant other? In Dido’s case, she chose death over life without Aeneas, and yet, by killing her unborn child through the suicide, she chose death and life without a child. For Anna Karenina, it seems she had a similar relationship in terms of loyalty with her lover and son; thus her motivation for suicide was the inability to have them together. For Scarlett, she has no love for both Wade and their child. Ella crates an avenue in which she can discover that she truly loves Rhett. The unrequited love from Rhett transfers to Ella and then to Scarlett, where it is unrequited again.
    I really liked that you analyzed maternal relationships rather than relationships with significant others like many interpretations and analysis. Do you anticipate to further your research on maternal relationships in these three works? Also, why do you think the authors were motivated to include children in each work?