Previously, on Storytelling: “Any Jungian reader will protest when I suggest that his approach to the unconscious is limiting, and they would argue well that each application of his ideas in personal. Jung interested me, but the more I read, the less it allowed for an application to my fiction. In this blog, I will outline my solution, a process for engaging and applying the unconscious in the artistic endeavor of storytelling. I will make my recommendations as universal as possible, hoping to provide something relevant to any writer. Part of that is the question of our core, unconscious patterns, which provide a poker-hand of patterns for the writer looking for a concrete place to begin.”
We will begin with the Mother. Jung viewed her as the most important of the archetypes, but what does she mean in terms of our core patterns? (I will get into the nature of “core patterns” and other elements of my literary theory at a later date. For now, it is sufficient to understand these patterns as the equivalent of Jungian archetypes but within an existential framework; no “shared” unconscious is necessary, as far as the literal and metaphysical meaning that Jung gave it.
Mother: Gender is something we later assign to our reservoir of knowledge, having learned that gender is a concept and that our mother is identified with one. The earliest mother patterns were formed when we did not differentiate ourselves from the world around us. We knew want and anxiety, and we knew provision and comfort. Eventually, we learned to separate mother from ourselves, and we found that want and anxiety were internal while provision and comfort were external. This was mother to us. It was not necessary that the person in question was our biological mother or a woman. If we found ourselves cared for through human interaction, the fundamental pattern would apply. The details of adult concerns were irrelevant, and as long as there was want and anxiety experienced and provision and comfort given, this early pattern is universal and perfect. Where it fails, as we see in situations of extreme neglect, the damage is profound. Where it succeeds we have the Garden of Eden and the golden ages of history from which man has fallen. Whether or not those things are historically true is irrelevant to this discussion. They appeal because we experienced them personally. We started life without detail or logic, only want and satisfaction. Everything else since then has come with the accumulation of detail and knowledge, and none of it can measure up to the simplicity and perfection of that first pattern.
If we were to rank potential betrayals, the greatest would have to come from the one connected to that pattern in our hearts. On the one hand, every parent is doomed. We cannot measure up to that first experience. On that other, because the pattern of the “mother” looms large over us, it allows for much to be forgiven. Many failures are forgotten because the child “knows” the mother as perfection.
Eventually, as she grows older, the child has to recognize and accept the limitations of the individual, but the perfection of the pattern remains in the heart. When the child becomes the parent, she in confronted with the disparity between her knowledge of herself and her expectations of the perfection of the mother. The mother comes to the child with her own needs and anxiety, and as she is accepted by the child who finds comfort in her; in turn, she finds comfort in the child.
In that moment, the pattern is satisfied.
In stories, we end with pattern satisfaction. In life, the story continues. Imperfections and failures mount, parent and child. Forgiveness and love are hopefully offered and received. The child becomes a parent, and the parent decreases. She becomes old and frail, full of want and anxiety. Provision and care are again external, and in certain times and cultures, that provision and care came from the child, completing the circle. The is less true, today, and the strength or weakness of this change is left for another discussion.
What I’ve described here are aspects of the lifelong pattern of motherhood, only some of which are truly unconscious. All of them come into play when we touch upon this core pattern, sometime knowingly, and sometimes we have tapped into those unconscious perceptions built in earliest childhood.
By being aware of this, we can apply an understanding of how people perceive the concept of motherhood in our communication with the reader.
Readers have an expectation of being manipulated by the author, whether they’ve ever thought of it in those terms, or not. It is consented to as part of the contract of engaging with the story, and readers complain when that manipulation fails. “It wasn’t scary at all” is a complaint by the horror reader, implicitly stating that the author failed to manipulate her into being afraid when there was nothing logically present to fear.
As writers we use numerous tools to manipulate the feelings and thoughts of readers in various ways, and whether you’ve used that term or even like it is irrelevant. It is what you do. What I am suggesting here is that we recognize that role of fiction and embrace it.
Next time, we’ll discuss applications for our fiction but also our responsibility for our readers.
See you then.
P.S. — Say hi on Twitter, and let me know if you have blog posts touching on the themes covered in this series. I will close the series with links to the best and most relevant.
Featured Image Info:
The Dream (1910) Henri Rousseau