Role Mother? Role model? Motherhood?
The death of a loved one can result in a trauma where the painful experience causes a psychological scar. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones explores the different ways in which people process grief when they lose a loved one. When young Susie Salmon is killed on her way home from school, the remaining four members of her family all deal differently with their grief. After Susie’s death, her mother, Abigail Salmon, endures the adversity of losing her daughter, her family collapsing, and accepting the loss of the life she never had the opportunity to live. Abigail uses Freud’s defence mechanisms to repress wounds, fears, her guilty desires, and to resolve conflicts, which results in her alienation and separation from her family.
When the bond between the mother and a child is broken through the death of the child, it can be unbearable to face, leading the mother to turn to denial in order to cope with her loss. When Abigail hears the news that her daughter Susie is dead, she refuses to believe it, “but when they held up the evidence bag with my hat in it, something broke in her. The fine wall of leaden crystal that had protected her heart […] shattered” (Sebold). Sebold presents the story narrated from the omniscient first person point of view of Susie, who has been murdered; the hat belongs to Susie, making the death real to Abigail though she does not want to believe it. She denies the event and would prefer not to talk about it with anyone, even her husband. This starts to distance Abigail from her husband, marking the beginning of her alienation, which has resulted from Freud’s defence mechanism of avoidance and denial. This situation proves that “denial can temporarily be useful in helping people cope, but in the long term painful feelings and events must be acknowledged in order to avoid further psychological and emotional problems” (Mendelsohn). Abigail becomes comfortable with avoiding the death of her daughter, putting up a wall that her family cannot break through. As Abigail distances herself from her family and refuses to comfort them, this foreshadows to the reader her ability to walk away and leave her children later in the novel. Through her actions, it is made evident that the defence mechanism of avoidance and denial has a negative impact on Abigail and her family.
Suppressing negative emotions and unresolved conflicts can eventually have an impact on different aspects of one’s life. Abigail has restrained her grief for so long, and as her husband’s pursuit to find Susie’s murderer tests her patience, she uses Freud’s displacement defence mechanism “as a means by which the impulse can be expressed-allowing a catharsis of the original emotion-but toward a safer target (GALE ENCYCLOPEDIA). Len Fenerman, the local detective, becomes Abigail’s doorway out of her pent up emotions. She indulges in an affair with him as he offers her security and an escape from reality. In heaven, Susie...