Coraline, third post . . .

11May10

Is Coraline about mothering? If not, what is it about?

from Amazon

A brief of the story [SPOILER: I don’t think it spoils much, but you may wish to come back and read this after you’ve read the book or seen the movie]: Coraline feels ignored. She finds a world with the “other mother” who meets her desires, but the “other mother” is a predator, a spider-like being who wove an alternate reality mirror of Coraline’s own world. She kidnaps Coraline’s parents, and Coraline must return to the web to save her parents and the souls of the three previous ‘flies’ other mother has sucked dry (two children and a fairy, I think). With the help of allies and magical gifts she is able to defeat the other mother, rescue her real parents and free the souls. Coraline does this by challenging the other mother. Coraline comes back changed, more resourceful, but also more understanding and more mature. Her relationship with her parents after she saves them is only touched on (they don’t recall the ordeal). She hugs her mother. Her father has kind gray eyes. Her father makes a pizza–it’s a “recipe,” but instead of going for the PB&J, she eats it and just picks off the pineapple. There are other changes: she insists on her own name with Mr. Bobo and she’s not uptight about starting the school year.

from Amazon

So, what about mothering? I talked briefly about this one with Jan, and as usual she blew me away with her insight. Some of this is mine and some hers.

The major characters Coraline deals with on each side of the (yes, vaginal–and each trip back and forth is a rebirth) tunnel between worlds are the mothers. Coraline’s real mother is caring, but busy and distracted. She sets limits but deals with Coraline with some degree of benign neglect. Other mother gives the appearance at least at first of caring. She cooks only Coraline’s favorite foods, gives her only clothes she wants to wear and is willing to play games with her. Coraline is the focus of other mother’s life–though it turns out to be the focus of a predator on her prey.

But other mother is a replication of mother through a distorted glass–the mother who gives the child everything but love. I think here of other mother as the witch feeding candy and sweets to Hansel and Gretel.

Looking through Coraline’s eyes (no buttons) we can see one mother, a mother we desperately want more of. We want her to give us everything, to meet our impulsive desires, to belong to us, give us her time and attention and roast chicken. We want to (to paraphrase Where the Wild Things Are) eat her up, we love her so. So what Jan suggested that blew me away is that mother is split into “real mother” and “other mother,” with “other mother” getting the (projected) ravenous, aggressive feelings that the child actually feels toward her own mother, and “real mother” being basically the parts of her own mother she loves.

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3 Responses to “Coraline, third post . . .”

  1. I’m not sure the dichotomy is so strong. Obviously, Coraline wants some of what Other Mother offers: attention, companionship, caring. We want the love too, and need the boundaries. Perhaps the dichotomy is more need than want. We need love, boundaries, real sustenance, but we want attention, fun, softness that is more than just benign neglect. To be slightly unfair, Coraline is an only child who is treated like a third–kind of superfluous and unexciting.

    And I while I think some of Other Mother is projection and the nasty side of wish fulfillment, I also think there may be some reality there about parents–especially the parents of an only child, when the love and attention becomes too much to handle and keeps a child from being able to grow up and establish independence. Coraline’s “real” parents don’t need her, so there is no need for her to change beyond the stasis they’ve reached. Other Mother needs her too much. By staving her parents, Coraline is forced out of stasis. She’s really needed for the first time, but her parents (because they don’t remember) are able to let her continue to grow.

    • Good.

      I agree there’s real need behind Coraline’s construct of the dark side of her mother, and I feel the sting of the only child who’s treated like a third . . .

      I’m not as sure of about “stasis.” I think benign neglect (being one who’s used it perhaps a bit more than I should have) is a parenting method that leaves room for growth, but it may be that the stasis you’re talking about is in the relationship between Coraline and her parents.


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