The Maternal Instinct


Considering the theme of motherhood, I, who adopted my children, started thinking of adoption in literature. I was going to tackle the wicked stepmother thing in fairy tales, but that led to thoughts of Miss Haversham. In Great Expectations, Dickens’ presents her as a mother with an agenda. She schools her adopted daughter Estella to be the ultimate heartbreaker. Miss Haversham, abandoned at the altar decades before, is an uber man hater. She blames all men and warps lovely Estella to be a human revenge weapon. Our hero Pip saves Estella as much as he can, but only after feeling the requisite heartbreak. Revenge via kiddies is bad.
Let’s move on to Marilla from Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery. Good at heart, Marilla is aging, unmarried, and lives with her shy bachelor brother Matthew. They planned to adopt a boy to help with farm work on their land on Prince Edward Island.
When Anne arrives instead, Marilla first balks at keeping her, then sees it as her Christian duty, but finally can’t resist the volatile, imaginative, bright, and affectionate Anne. Anne becomes the beloved daughter both Marilla and Matthew didn’t know they were missing. A gentle agenda doesn’t rule out love.
Perhaps my favorite adoptive mom is Clara in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. Clara takes in the baby abandoned at her ranch by his mother. When his father arrives, Clara tells him, “I like young things…Babies and young horses. I get attached real quick. They don’t have to be mine.” Both baby and young father become part of Clara’s family. She has enough love and common sense to go around.
The theme of maternal instinct in literature is dramatized by many characters, and it makes for some great reads. Happy Mother’s Day.




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