The Unique Role of the Mother
The discussion about our mother always evokes strong emotions in us. And it should! After all, we lived in her womb for nine months even before we experienced the light of this world. When we try to explain to others what she means to us, or what a mother should be like or do, each of us has a different expression. Each mother is, after all, different. The unique role of the mother will be viewed through the inspection of three short stories: "Boys and Girls" by Alice Munro, "The Boarding House" by James Joyce, and "I Stand Here Ironing" by Tillie Olsen.
The old, traditional view on the role of the mother is that of the female parent taking primary care of the children and the household. The mother is the hub of the wheel within the home, making sure everything runs smoothly. In "Boys and Girls" by Alice Munro, the mother actively plays this part. Although she has no apparent dynamic role within this story, the nameless caretaker has a vital function within each of her family member's life, and plays the role of the socially accepted neutral fixture of the household. It is her job to be the continuous keeper of the home. Throughout the story, the mother remains in the background, buzzing about, taking care of everything around the house:
My mother was too tired and preoccupied to talk to me, she had no heart to tell me about the Normal School Graduation Dance; sweat trickled over her face and she was always counting under her breath, pointing at the jars, dumping cups of sugar. It seemed to me that work done in the house was endless, dreary and peculiarly depressing…. (530)1
It is apparent from the reader's point of view that the mother's place was in the home.
It was an odd thing to see my mother down at the barn. She did not often come out of the house unless it was to do something—hang out the wash or dig potatoes in the garden. She looked out of place, with her bare, lumpy legs, not touched by the sun, her apron still on and damp across the stomach from the supper dishes. (529)
It is overlooked that the father would also look out of place if he were inside the house during his workday, invading his wife's territory, unless it was, of course, to come in for his prepared meal at lunchtime. Through the daughter's descriptions, the reader can see that the father does his imperative work outside the home, and the mother's job was not considered as being important: "work done out of doors, and in my father's service, was ritualistically important" (530). It is evident within the happenings of the story that the mother is not necessarily appreciated for what she dutifully does for her family. "My mother, I felt, was not to be trusted….You could not depend on her, and the real reasons for the things she said and did were not to be known" (530). Yet, the narrator's mother went out of her way for everyone else, neglecting herself. "She would tie her hair up [in a kerchief] in the morning,...