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Various Portrayals of Motherless Characters

When thinking about the contents of The Furies and To Kill a Mockingbird, if one were to draw a connection between these two works, odds are that connection would not come in terms of thinking about the effect of the lack of mothers present throughout. However, this is one of the first similarities that I thought of and is the one that I am most interested in exploring. In both pieces, the lack of a mother is a very well-known fact, Athena is known throughout Greek Mythology for her birth from her father’s head with no maternity involved; similarly, it is known throughout Maycomb County that Jem and Scout lost their mother at a young age, leaving their father the sole responsibility of raising them. Not only are these facts well known, but in both pieces, the lack of a mother is used as a form of judgement.

In The Furies, the persecution of Orestes stems from him killing his mother. Orestes claims that he was justified in the murder of his mother because he was doing so as retribution for her killing his father; however, the furies are uninterested in his motives, as the motive does not change the outcome. When Orestes is put on trial for the murder of his mother, Apollo defends him by creating the argument that the only parent a child truly needs is their father. In order to create this argument, Apollo mentions that Athena did not have a mother, stating “…the one named mother is not the child’s true parent…I have proof that there can be a father without a mother, proof that what I say is true…The child of Zeus. She never grew in the darkness of a womb, and no goddess could have borne such a child” (657-666).

Furthermore, due to the jury being hung, Athena is given the final decision on the verdict. Athena decides to acquit Orestes of these the charges brought against him with her reasoning being, “I was born of no mother, and I defer to the male in all things with all my heart…Thus, I cannot give precedence to the woman’s death…” (736-739). In doing this, Athena contradicts the furies argument that it is necessary for individuals to have a mother in their life.

Similarly, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Jem and Scout are forced to grow up without a mother, as she died when they were young. Much like the furies believed, many citizens of Maycomb County claim that Jem and Scout are at a disadvantage because they are growing up lacking the presence of a mother. There are a multitude of instances throughout the novel where some citizens claim that Scout in particular is being raised improperly because she does not have a mother in her life teaching her how to be ladylike. However, much like Athena, Scout does perfectly fine without the influence of a mother due to the influence of her father, Calpurnia, and some of the women in her neighborhood.

2 thoughts on “Various Portrayals of Motherless Characters”

  1. I never made this connection, and I think it’s very interesting. I do think To Kill a Mockingbird more than The Furies acknowledges the loss of a mother. Like you said, in The Furies no one really cares; even Athena doesn’t think she needed a mother. But the very fact that Calpurnia’s influence is so needed and important for Scout proves that Lee, at least, recognized that Scout would be missing something without a sort of maternal influence.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kayla, what an absolutely phenomenal connection. There is something about Scout’s (pre-pubescent) status as a tomboy that gives her a special relationship to knowledge and justice and empathy, and I had never thought to think about her in relation to Athena, but it works PERFECTLY. I’ll be citing you the next time I teach the novel. 🙂


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