Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

While the plot of The Good Mother centers on who retains custody of Molly, the real adversaries are not Anna and Brian. The true struggle is between Anna’s experimentation and the traditional role that society demands of a mother.

Anna leaves a marriage that is apparently no better or worse than most, even though Anna is sexually unawakened during her marriage. Brian is so good that, even though he does not really understand Anna’s dissatisfaction, he is generous in the terms of the divorce and offers Anna custody of Molly without a quibble. There is a suggestion that Brian and the traditions he upholds accept Anna as long as she represents some idealized version of a virgin mother. While Anna centers her life around Molly, Brian is supportive and considerate.

Anna sets the engines of retribution in motion when she steps out of her chaste role as single mother to engage in a passionate love affair with Leo. As her sexuality flowers, her character also changes: She grows less passive and more sure of herself. Brian’s attitude shifts; he recognizes that Anna has become a woman he never knew. When he hears of the sexual indiscretions she has permitted with Molly, he is poised to punish her in the harshest way he can: by legally taking the child from her.

By emphasizing the warmth and closeness between Anna and Molly throughout the novel, Miller leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind that the child’s interests would be best...

(The entire section is 604 words.)