A mother tidying in the kitchen, busily preparing a meal, calls out to one of her children in an irritated voice, “Why haven’t you done what I asked you to do earlier? Why can’t you listen properly? I’m not going to say it again!” We’ve all heard this before, to a greater or lesser extent, from our own mothers. It’s when we roll our eyes and think ‘What a pain!’ or ‘Not again’. A mother can get under their children’s skin at any given moment, especially their daughters. Since daughters are naturally close to their mothers, they tend to clash head- to-head. Moms always seem to stubbornly interfere with daughters’ lifestyle choices, even after they’ve become adults and left the nest, by nitpicking and making (usually forceful) suggestions. For instance, what to eat, what to wear, and who to date. A daughter’s life becomes malleable putty in the rigid hands of a controlling mother. In her essay, “The Mother/Daughter Relationships in Young Adult Fiction”, Frances states: “All women are daughters and must resolve the conflicts inherent in the mother/daughter relationship if they are to understand themselves and ultimately to establish their own identity.” Therefore, daughters tend to rebel against their mothers and seek to prove they can be independent. This conflict is depicted in the novel The Silver Metal Lover and the indie film Real Women Have Curves.
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Taking a pen to her journal, Jane, the pampered and child-like protagonist of The Silver Metal Lover, recounts to her mother the story of how she impossibly, but passionately, fell in love with a humanistic robot named Silver. This is the premise for the science fiction/romance novel written by Tanith Lee. Set in a futuristic world where androids do most of the work, Jane longs for something to change in her monotonous life. Since childhood, she has clung to the skirts of her mother, Demeta; clung to the smell of La Verte. Demeta chooses everything for Jane, from friends to her very appearance and body type. She psychologically manipulates Jane into developing a dependency on her, though she is shown to bear little affection for her daughter. For instance, when Jane clings and pleads for her to listen to her troubles, she responds: “Come along, Jane. Let go of my sleeves. You’re intelligent and bright, and I’ve encouraged you to think for yourself. […] And we will talk. Tomorrow” (31). And every time here after, she puts off the talk with excuses of having business to attend to.
After meeting and falling in love with Silver, Jane runs away from home to be with him, forsaking the security her mother provided. Jane then lives with Silver for a brief time, enjoying freedom and tasting the bitterness of reality for the first time in her life. However, their time together comes to an abrupt end when Silver is captured and deactivated. Jane is heartbroken, but she learns an invaluable lesson through her relationship with Silver: to have confidence in herself. She didn’t need to be what her mother deemed. She would no longer be orchestrated about like a puppet on a string. To her mother, Jane is incapable of taking care of herself. “It’s my concern for your inability to cope with real life that makes me insist you come back to the house” (170). When she questions this opinion of her mother’s, Demeta merely replies, “You know the expression, Jane, I must be cruel only to be kind” (170). Clearly, this is Demeta’s form of ‘tough love.’
Jane and Demeta aren’t the only fictional characters ones who have a strained mother-daughter relationship. Ana Garcia, the main character in Real Women Have Curves, is a Hispanic high school graduate torn between heritage (staying home in Eastern Los Angeles to help her family) and finding her own path through further education (going to Columbia University in New York). Her mother, Carmen, is getting old and is in denial of the fact. At one point in the film, she thinks that she’s pregnant, asking Ana to keep it a secret, but it turns out to be menopause. Her overbearing, rude, and somewhat unstable behavior becomes harder to deal with every day. Everyone in the Garcia household feels it, especially Ana. Since she is the youngest, Carmen makes it Ana’s responsibility to take care of her. This is difficult for Ana because she wants to focus on getting a scholarship for Columbia University, but is forced by her mother into being a caretaker and sweat-shop laborer for her older sister, Estela. In a way, it is the opposite of Jane and Demeta’s dynamic: instead of Ana relying on her mother, like Jane, Ana’s mother relies on her.
For a mother in the care of her daughter, however, Carmen shows a bizarre sense of affection. Ana is not skinny. She is heavy-set, just like her mother and sister. But Carmen calls out Ana’s weight, telling her to lose it or she’ll never find a husband and calling her a ‘gordita’ (fatty). These tactless, blunt words harm Ana’s self-confidence much like how Demeta puts down Jane’s capability and intelligence. Carmen justifies herself though by saying, “I love you, that’s why I make you miserable.” Like Demeta, this is her form of ‘tough love.’
Unlike Jane, however, who for most of her life believed everything her mother said, Ana rebels. She doesn’t put up with her mother’s crass words and stands up for herself. During one humorous and moving scene, in Estela’s shop, Ana and the other female workers take off their clothes and point out their imperfections and start to laugh despite themselves. They slowly begin to feel more comfortable the way they are. But Carmen shakes her head at them, scowling, insisting that they all need to lose some weight. Ana, finally fed up, confronts her mother: “How dare anybody tell me what I should look like, when there’s so much more to me than just my weight!” Carmen can’t say anything to that and walks away stubbornly. The other workers smile knowingly and continue to work, dancing blazingly in their plain underwear, letting it all hang out.
The Silver Metal Lover and Real Women Have Curves are two completely different stories. One takes place in a highly advanced, technology driven world and the other in the ghetto of Los Angeles. One involves a rich girl who depends too much on her mother and the other a girl who is struggling financially and fighting her mother at every turn. But in both plots, the young daughters learn to be themselves and break away from their mothers. Ana earns a full scholarship and leaves for New York and Jane continues to live on her own without the aid of Demeta. Cardoso and Lee execute these stories masterfully and leave a powerful message relatable to young women everywhere: you are the master of your own future. As Elizabeth finely puts it in her article, “‘I’m Not Your Little Baby!’ Calling a Truce in Mother-Daughter Conflict”:
Although the relationship is complex, young adults often need to understand their mothers in order to understand themselves. Well-developed fiction can provide a powerful message of comfort, reassuring daughters that others have experienced the pain and confusion of growing independence.
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