The Good Mother Essay - Critical Essays

Sue Miller


While Anna might be seen as a victim of circumstances, her own character is important in determining the course of her life. Her repeated attempts to create an idyllic haven outside society can be seen as vain efforts to re-create her childhood sojourns at her maternal grandparents’ summer home in rural Maine. The “camp,” as it was called, had no electricity or telephone, but Anna describes it early in the novel as “Edenic.” When she moves into her Cambridge apartment, she paints Molly’s room the same green and white as the buildings at her grandparents’ camp, attempting to create something familiar and safe.

When Anna was fourteen, she moved with her family to Chicago, and her life changed. She spent her summers at a music camp, where her mother enrolled her in the belief she was musically gifted. After two years, however, Anna’s teacher advised her not to return. Although the decision to be a pianist had not been Anna’s, she believed that her life as a “serious person” was over. This lack of confidence led to the drifting quality of Anna’s early life.

In addition to giving this careful depiction of Anna’s inner life, The Good Mother takes on wider themes. While the primary conflict is apparently between Anna and Brian for custody of their child, another contest is between Anna’s unconventional living arrangements and the traditional role that society demands of a mother. Anna dissolves a marriage that is outwardly successful, although she is unawakened sexually. Brian does not understand Anna’s dissatisfaction, yet he is still generous in granting Anna custody of their child. Brian, traditional in his beliefs, is accommodating as long as Anna represents some...

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