Barbara Wersba Maggie Parish - Essay

Maggie Parish

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Positively-portrayed mothers—the kind whose parenting readers might someday want to emulate, seem to be in the minority in … works of contemporary realistic fiction…. (p. 101)

What of the mothers in contemporary realistic fiction for young adults who are shown to be mostly destructive influences on their sons and daughters? The Dreamwatcher … is one good example of this phenomenon. The mother in The Dreamwatcher seems to have no redeeming features. A compulsive consumer, obsessed with her house's appearance and her own, she literally seems to drive her husband to drink and her son to the brink of despair. Then the protagonist meets an old woman dressed in shabby velvet, who quotes Thoreau and Shakespeare and treats her new friend with admiration and respect. The mother in this book is stereotyped, but the book works as literature anyway; the protagonist's redemption is an absorbing theme, and while we never see the positive attributes that his mother might have, we do see, and the protagonist must confront and accept, the negative attributes of his "fairy godmother," who is a whole person with strengths and weaknesses, after all. (Another strongly negative portrayal of a mother figure in a book by Barbara Wersba occurs in Tunes for a Small Harmonica)…. (p. 103)

Maggie Parish, "The Mother As Witch, Fairy Godmother, Survivor or Victim in Contemporary Realistic Fiction for Young Adults," in English Journal, Vol. 68, No. 7, October, 1979, pp. 101-03.∗