Describe Esther's relationship with her mother.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Esther displays many complex emotional relationships to people in the novel.  I think that one distinct emotional reality that Esther does display is the dislike she has for her mother.  There is an icy frigidity that underscores their relationship.  One such example of this is how Esther's mother tells her daughter that she was turned down from the writing program in an almost detached manner. There is no emotional quotient in the relaying of this difficult piece of news.  Their relationship is guarded by Mrs. Greenwood's desire for Esther follow the path of "what is" and of the Status Quo.  Mrs. Greenwood is more concerned with providing reasons for her daughter's institutionalization, as opposed to actually caring for her daughter's well- being.  When Esther receives flowers from her mother, they are thrown away and there is relief when Esther receives the news that she will not be able to receive any more visitors.  Esther's burning desire is to question the value of "what is" and posit what can be or what might be.  This transformative vision is something that Mrs. Greenwood lacks.  Such a different construction of reality is what lies at the heart of their relationship.  It is for this reason that there is little emotional connection between them.  

For all of the battle in which Esther is engaged in with the world and with herself, much of the root of this conflict comes back to the relationship she has with her mother.  Their difference in perception can be traced to the perception of the role that her father, Mrs. Greenwood's husband, played in their lives.  Esther was never allowed to grieve and properly process the pain of his loss, a cause of the anger that she feels towards her mother:  "I had always been my father's favorite, and it seemed fitting that I should take on a mourning my mother had never bothered with."  Esther's hostility and anger towards her mother is rooted in the perceived abandonment of a nurturing figure in childhood, something that can be traced to the way in which Esther views the women in her life.  The fact that Esther sees "sees Doreen, Betsy, Jay Cee, Joan Gilling, and many others as role models" can be traced to the lack of a role model Esther sees in her mother.