The concept of the goddess--especially in her three-fold embodiment as maiden, mother, and crone-is amazingly persistent for writers who want to explore gender roles.
In particular, Toni Morrison uses the triple goddess to consider varieties of "male" and "female" thinking and to see how many roles an individual may wind up playing. The goddess we are concerned with in this Essay is many and yet one. She is a moon goddess, with triple aspects. Ths most common names she has traveled under are Artemis, Selene, and Hecate. The first clean linking in modern research seems to have been made by Edith Hamilton, widely regarded as the first lady of mythology, in her 1940 work Mythology. Hamilton wrote that Artemis is identified with Hecate in the later poets, and quotes a passage from one of them:
She is "the goddess with three forms," Selene in the sky, Artemis on earth, Hecate in the
lower world and in the world above when it is wrapped in darkness . . . . She was
associated with deeds of darkness, the Goddess of the Crossways, which were held to be
ghostly places of evil magic . . . . It is a strange transformation from the lovely huntress
flashing through the forest, from the moon making all beautiful with her light . . . (31,32)
We are interested in this figure because she recurs frequently in modern fiction by major writers, as Maiden, Mother, and Crone. In antiquity, Artemis was the virgin huntress, Selene was the fertile moon goddess, and Hecate was the dark Personification of lightless, forsaken night. So, within broad parameter, this classification is accurate. It wasn't always so. The Maiden, Mother, and Crone arrangement may have started with Macbeth, and a certain staging of the three witches on the moors.
However, as one writer claims, the treatment of the myth today is perhaps much more important than what has been done with it in the past.
Morrison’s women in Beloved do happen to conform to the maiden, mother, and crone mold in the superficial sense, but the mental attitude counts for as much or more than the physical appearance does. One trinity that exists in Beloved does follow the template, with Denver as the maiden, whose role is to learn; Sethe, the mother; who should nurture; and Baby Suggs, who guides.
Denver is the virginal figure, and her part is to learn and evolve. She has never walked where the elder two have, but she must in order to grow into the roles she will later play. The maiden sometimes plays the part of the reader, asking the sometimes naive questions a reader would ask and experiencing the confusion and dismay a reader might at the alarming events both are witness to.
Sethe is the Mother of the trio: married once, twice if Paul D. is counted, as he should be; with one living child, one among the dead, and two others missing. Her fertility is an important illustration of another concept vital to rural life, which is the continuance of the community. Her excesses of character late...