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.

Long Night’s Journey Into Day – Grief, Forgiveness, and Motherhood

“Long Night’s Journey Into Day” is a film about the racial and political violence in South Africa during its period of apartheid rule. The film showed a few of the many horrifying cases of murder that occurred during this time. Some cases were later brought forth in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee – which was a way for perpetrators to confess to the families and friends of their victims, and ask for amnesty. One of the main purposes of the TRC was to reveal South Africa’s dark past, rather than bury it. 

The film started off with the case of Amy Biehl, a young American girl, who was studying and reporting on the racial divide and apartheid in South Africa. During her time in Cape Town, she was brutally murdered by a black mob. This case really stuck out to me for many reasons. One being how her parents reacted to this tragedy. I thought it was borderline crazy, yet so inspiring that her parents actually supported and pushed for the TRC to grant the murderers of Amy amnesty. The scene where Amy’s parents visited the homes of one of the perpetrator’s mothers was shocking as well – that they could feel compassion for the mother of a man who killed their daughter, and were able to visit and have a conversation with her. Another aspect of that story that stuck out to me was when one of her murderers was interviewed and felt a great deal of remorse after hearing Amy’s parents speak about their daughter at trial. Hearing about Amy’s personality and passions and her mission in South Africa really humanized her and impacted everyone. Another scene in particular that was extremely upsetting to watch was when one of the mothers of another victim started to scream and cry during the trial of his murderer. It made me so upset to the point of discomfort – like I had no place watching this mother’s raw pain when seeing and hearing about the death of her son. Dr. Gulick truly put it best in today’s class discussion – that the feeling of discomfort is similar to seeing someone naked. It was a very impactful scene, I could see other women sitting in the audience at the trial who were so moved that they too were crying. 

It is clear that one main focal point of the film was on the mothers of the victims. Although they all handled grief in different ways, something that was somewhat common among all of them was their ability to forgive. The mothers were able to sit down with the perpetrators and express their sadness and confusion for the crime, but also forgive them for their actions. One mother was talking to the black police officer who killed her son, and stated that as upset as she is, she must forgive him in order to heal and move forward. “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” was very eye-opening for me and I honestly can’t believe I hadn’t heard more about it before – it was stated that South Africa had the most notorious form of racial domination since Nazi Germany, and I think it is definitely a part of history that needs to be talked about more. 

The Graves of a Household

One group of victims shown in the Long Night’s Journey into Day film are a group of mothers who all have shared in the pain of losing their child to violence of South Africa’s police. Not only was the story of these mothers heart wrenching in its own right but in the larger context of the sheer number of similar stories all taking place around the same time is unfathomable and deeply distressing. The day-in-day-out, for lack of a better term, hell of life takes it toll. There is one thing that these mothers have though; the truth. Above all else they were able to get the truth and know that their boys were not really the “terrorists” the media portrayed them as. This reminded me of the importance of the truth – no matter how bitter, hard to swallow, or fresh the wound is the the truth set these mothers on a path to freedom. Immediately following their reaction to the videotape of their children one mother was seen being much chipper and happier. When asked if she was feeling okay she replied “[o]h, yes, very much better, because now I know so much more.” In this instance knowing more does help even if it is of this traumatic magnitude.

Hearing the stories of these mothers reminded me of a Romanticism poet by the name of Felicia Hemans. Hemans’ poem “The Graves of a Household” speaks volumes to the inverse scenario that these mothers could have faced had they never known the truth. A life of misery and want and wait for the children they raised to come home — never to know where or if they are alive. These five stanzas stand to highlight what I am writing about:

The same fond mother bent at night
O’er each fair sleeping brow;
She had each folded flower in sight,–
Where are those dreamers now?

One, midst the forests of the west,
By a dark stream is laid,–
The Indian knows his place of rest,
Far in the cedar shade.

The sea, the blue lone sea, hath one,
He lies where pearls lie deep;
He was the lov’d of all, yet none
O’er his low bed may weep.

One sleeps where southern vines are drest
Above the noble slain:
He wrapt his colours round his breast,
On a blood-red field of Spain.

And one–o’er her the myrtle showers
Its leaves, by soft winds fann’d;
She faded midst Italian flowers,–
The last of that bright band.

The truth these mother found was sharp, jagged, and painful. But it was a truth that most others do not ever have the opportunity to find. The TRC helped bring this truth to light, to set the record straight on who these mothers children were, and to bring the mothers some closure. It is not a good outcome, there cannot be a good outcome to something as violent and brutal as Apartheid. But it was a better outcome for these mothers than the mother in Hemans’ poem — a life of wanting, waiting, and wondering that never frees the mind.

The Furies – Role of the Patriarchy

In Aeschylus’s The Furies, the concept of the patriarchy doesn’t fully extend to the exclusion of female entities in terms of law and politics. While among the gods, Zeus is the father of most gods and his word and will are practiced and held at the highest standard, as said by the god Apollo many times in his argument against the revenge-seeking Furies, some women in this society, and even among the gods, still hold some sort of powerful influence over the idea of justice. The goddess of wisdom, Athena, is sought out by Orestes for shelter and protection from the Furies, who are pursuing Orestes for committing matricide. The retributive justice that the Furies seek in Clytemnestra’s name asserts a high level of respect for women in society, especially mothers, which allows them to use the law and justice system to correct or settle wrongdoings done unto them. The goddess Athena also serves as a judge or mediator in the trial scene of the play, and her word is understood as the final say in the matter of Orestes’ fate. Athena seems to have more authority than the god Apollo does, considering Apollo and Orestes ask Athena for her guidance and judgement. While the women (or female entities) in this part of the drama clearly hold some sort of high authority, it is also clear that the patriarchy is still most powerful in Greek politics. Apollo often times refers to Zeus as the highest power and Athena casts her vote in favor of Orestes based on her relationship to her father Zeus and lack of relationship to any sort of motherly figure. Apollo even goes so far to say that mothers essentially have no role in parenthood, and are strangers to their children, only existing to birth and feed their young. The presence of a patriarchal society is also clear through the anger of the Furies, who furiously defend the concepts of motherhood and womanhood, and are angry and repulsed at the men in this play for holding little importance on the criminality of matricide. At the end of the play, Orestes is found not guilty and the power of the male authority is reinforced through this holding.