I woke up from a weird blend of a dream–a blend of Dead Poets Society and Mona Lisa Smile. The dream was about repression and conformity, obviously, and the dying nerve in a back molar interrupted my sleep enough to insert myself into the dream as a critic. I left the dream altogether thinking I needed to write a short story about Dead Poets, writing from the point of view of the mother of the (spoiler alert!) boy who killed himself. What happened to that marriage where the wife was more of a shadow than a presence? Did she blame her husband? Did she become bitter and poison his dinner? Did she become even more shadowy and even less substantial as a person in her own right as she looked to her husband to tell her how to carry on in the face of the horror of the utterly preventable and predictable (and senseless) death of her son. Of course, the movie is fiction, and fiction is based on truths that cannot be told as fact, but as experience. And the fiction that is most untrue is the one that lingers–like a mother who cannot insert herself into her marriage enough to protect her child (Dead Poets) or the mother who inserts herself entirely into her child’s persona that she creates a cycle of inauthenticity and misses the wonder that is her child (Mona Lisa Smile and the father in Dead Poets).
If the 1950s were as depicted in these two movies, I am grateful for the 1960s rebellion and rejection of a norm that caused pain for many. Obviously, the norm continues on in the minds of many–as borne out by the campaign of Mitt Romney.
There is so much left to do. And telling the story of a shadow mother might be the best start.