Posted by: Phil Anderson | May 10, 2015

That’s What Mom Does

It’s Mothers Day and I’m going to reiterate some thoughts, ideas, and opinions about relationships between parents and children, both real and fictional.

Our parents are the people who raise us, whether they gave birth to us or not. They leave an indelible impact on our lives. They teach us values and priorities, sometimes with their words but more often by their actions, demonstrating what’s important and what’s not. They influence our formative years and even when we’ve reached adulthood and broken out of the mold we were formed in, its contours are still visible in who we are and who we’ve become.

Since parents are so pivotal to who a person is and how they behave, why are they missing from the lives of so many fictional characters? Disney movies are often singled out for this criticism, but it’s not exclusive to them.

A protagonist has to be (or has to become) a strong character. They need to stand up to adversity, persevere in conflict, and demonstrate on their own the qualities of a hero. Having a parent to lean on for assistance or for wise instruction seems to diminish a hero’s accomplishments.

Also, a parent (or any character) who is like-minded and supportive tends to be, from a narrative point-of-view, redundant. When the hero decides on a course of action, taking time to affirm that decision is generally a waste of page space and can really bog down the momentum of a story.

Some storytellers address these by putting the parents in conflict with the protagonist. Perhaps a parent refuses to see that his little girl has grown up. Maybe he’s concerned that the situation is too dangerous and forbids her from getting involved for her own protection. In effect, this makes parents just another obstacle for the hero to overcome.

In real life however, we all need support and encouragement to attain great things. We doubt our own abilities and we’re tempted to give up in the face of hardship. We need someone who can see potential where others can’t, who can find a needle of accomplishment in a haystack of failure.

What role do parents play in your favorite stories, or in the lives of your favorite characters? Do you have a parental figure who supports and encourages you? Leave your comments, and Happy Mothers Day!

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Responses

  1. My favorite book is Entwined. I’d be surprised if anyone has heard of it before. In this book, Azalea’s parents are a big part of her character. Her mother dies at the beginning of the book, and Azalea’s connection to her shows her weaknesses and her reliance on her mother. After her mother’s death, her father becomes distant. Her relationship with her father shows her rebellion. Her father is seen as an obstacle. I never really thought about the impact her parents have on the book before, but now I realize how big of an impact they have on the story as a whole.


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