Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 272

Mad Shadows is a novel by Canadian author Marie-Claire Blais. The story centers on the relationship between a vain and sociopathic mother and her son and daughter. The mother, who is obsessed with beauty, gives her attention and surface-level love to her attractive son. The daughter, who does not possess the same qualities has her brother, is therefore neglected. The novel has a nihilistic viewpoint of human relationships, or at least depicts the most extreme forms of family dysfunction.

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In this book, the orthodox notions of family relationships and values are thrown out the window as the triangular dynamic between the three illustrate relationships at their most shallow form. The mother and the son have an underlying Oedipus-complex relationship. This is evident in the son's jealousy over his mother's lover—who was also a shallow and vain man—and his eventual act of murder.

The daughter herself is no saint, as she disfigures her brother later on in the novel, thus bringing her closer, in her eyes, to her mother. After her failed relationship with a blind man—who had a preconceived idea of what she looked like before regaining his vision—she moves back to her mother's house. This sets off further tragic events, which cause her to attempt murder-suicide by setting her mother's house on fire.

This pivotal and climactic event in the narrative illustrates the overarching theme of the novel: that the concept of love is a social construct. For instance, the fact that the daughter abandoned her own child just to enact revenge on her mother shows that the concept of love can easily be corrupted by dysfunction.

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