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Motherhood and Childhood in Gabriela Mistral’s Works

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Gabriela Mistral’s literary legacy transcends sentimental representations of human experience. This study investigates her thematization of mother child-relationship in her monologue “Gabriela Thinks about her Absent Mother” (1923), with some references to the poems “Rocking”, “My Mother” and “The Parrot”. Analysis reflects a well wrought image of human resilience with a vast spatiotemporal influence. Mother appears as a caring supportive figure providing essential components of child development. Mother’s mission goes beyond establishing meaningful rapports with the surrounding environment and includes building a spiritual atmosphere wherein human brotherhood prevails. Mistral intimates the importance of empathy, resourcefulness, innovation and novelty in the teaching-learning process. Lucid effervescent style, including natural imagery, illuminates this relationship. At the same time, it is suggested that it goes beyond the capacity of language to fathom this unique nexus. In brief, Mistral’s insightful account abounds with ideas that still matter. 

Motherhood and childhood are recurrent themes in the works of Gabriela Mistral, the first Latin American Nobel Laureate in literature, “one of the founders of UNICEF, a tireless child advocate,” and “a champion of women and their lives”. The simplicity and serenity of the countryside of Chile where she comes from only fuel the potential of this literary, human, and educational icon. Mistral, a childless woman, insightfully portrays mother-child relationship, the first relationship human beings have. Her achievement comes as a big feat “for someone who had every reason to grow up self-conscious and introverted”. Mistral could have been destroyed by the loss of loved ones e. g. her fiancé, her father, and her adopted son. She could have also caved into negative thinking as a result of other frustrations like being rejected “for her solitary disposition and progressive ideas” Mistral has rather been up to the challenge that never puts out the torch of her talent and creativity, developing strategies to deal with “what life offers or withholds”. She also rises in the world to be a remarkable educational figure albeit she is denied a diploma or a school certificate to support her early quests for employment. Later, Mistral herself expresses the price she paid for pursuing “a teaching career without that piece of paper, the diploma, and that signature. ” However, awareness of the obstacles in her way never keeps her from shaking off their burden. She is never tempted to wrong others, being deprived of what she feels entitled to. Gentle treatment and “simplicity” are cornerstones of Mistral’s teachings. Referring to Mistral’s childlessness, Wretmark explains how she becomes a caring loving teacher and a mother figure as “The love she could not give a child of her own was given to the children of others, both those she met as a teacher and suffering children in other parts of the world”. 

Mistral has been acclaimed by authors like Price for “a seriousness and reality that transcends mere literary fashion”. In addition, Fraser points out how Mistral shows “an exuberant worship of the almost divine state of motherhood and the exaltation of the teaching profession”. Still, as an author, Mistral has faced certain challenges. E. Allison Peers attributes the unpopularity of Mistral’s work to her coming from a Latin American country and writing in Spanish, a language almost unknown in English speaking Britain. 

Her viewpoint seems to have clashed with other trends. In fact, Mistral’s swimming against the tide is indicated by Gies who explains Mistral’s concern about education and childhood in a world dominated by materialism. Thus, choosing her own path away from the general trend could have been behind the obscured image of her literary production. While commending Mistral’s “marvelous poems” and “her commitment to education for the poor,” translation scholar Bassnett, refers to Mistral as “an unjustly neglected woman poet”. Similarly, Spencer explains that Mistral’s active involvement in education and “social justice” does not save her from being “sentimentalized” and “buried beneath a conventionally feminine identity”. Parrott also indicates Mistral’s being “sensationalized”. This blurred image has given rise to voices speaking out against the injustice done to Mistral and calling for a reappraisal of her legacy. These include Gies (2003), Estrada (2007), and Spencer (2015), among others. 

This study argues that Mistral’s ideas are still valid and relevant to different aspects of our life nowadays. The importance of discussing her portrayal of mother-child relationship arises when considering challenges threatening the survival of a healthy family structure. Maintaining strong relationships among family members boosts their sense of belonging, unity and security. Such feelings are needed to ward off the nightmare of family disintegration, violence in its various forms, psychological and social problems. They also help in creating a healthy family atmosphere. Referring to Mistral’s unique standpoint about maternity, Bettaglio states that “apart from Mistral’s poems, most twentieth century Spanish and Latin American literature tends to silence the maternal voice”. This negative attitude towards maternity is attributed to apprehensions about maternity’s feeding patriarchy which relegates women into a marginal and insignificant status. Unlike skeptical voices questioning the role of maternity in empowering women, Mistral’s works abound with references to mother-child relationship as an illuminating and fulfilling experience. Mothers can have instrumental roles while guiding their kids throughout lifelong journeys of learning. The discussion below illustrates the way Mistral’s ideas illuminate research in different fields including childhood, motherhood, family life, interpersonal communication and education. 

In Mistral’s monologue “Gabriela Thinks about her Absent Mother,” (1923) the speaker vocatively expresses indebtedness to her mother whose generous body was the shelter providing the suitable prenatal environment necessary for normal growth. A list of the speaker’s body parts reflects an awareness of the importance of this phase which can have far-reaching consequences on a child’s life. Mistral employs imagery to convey mother’s role in this stage. Mother’s blood is like water giving life to plants like hyacinths. This relationship develops as the speaker views her existence as an extension of her mother’s life. This closeness fills the speaker with a worldly bliss that enthralls her heart. This state of bliss motivates her to move forward. Utilizing natural imagery comes as no surprise from an author living her childhood in an area with an inspiring beautiful nature. Thanks to Mistral’s mother. She instilled “a love of nature” in her daughter at a young age. Plant imagery recurs frequently in the speaker’s reference to daily interactions with her mother whose body works like a tree branch supporting its fruits until they ripen. Imagery here indicates the role mother plays in building personal independence. No overprotection stands in the way of authentic and normal interaction with her surroundings. The speaker gets the attention she needs, and her strong relationship with her mother seems not to be disturbed by her other preoccupations. Mothers should spend quality time with their children. The mother never perceives her responsibility towards her daughter as a burden or nuisance. She never feels tired of her, and keeps an eye on her when going out to play. It gives her no relief to see her leave her lap. What reassures the caring mother is seeing that her daughter is in fine fettle. 

In addition to visual imagery, Mistral utilizes sound imagery to convey the tenderness mother’s company provides. Mother’s rocking composes the sweetest symphony ever. Its bliss instills peace in her soul. Rocking which is accompanied by singing is both joyous and useful as it familiarizes her with her surroundings, and consequently helps establish channels of communication with the world. The wide knowledge mother provides makes learning at the hands of school teachers seem repetitious. Novelty gives communication with mother a special tinge preparing a child for future experiences. This preparation boosts the adaptation needed in different stages of growth and learning. Motherhood also includes guidance through real life experience of exploring and touching harmless objects around. Thus, mother’s role goes beyond theory to open up practical horizons. Fear and animosity recede to the background giving way to a sense of fellowship between the child and the universe. Making sense of connections with one’s surroundings is significant in establishing harmony and internal stability. Related to this point, Wong states that “Predictability of the caregiving environment thus provides children with a foundation to form coherent and secure mental representations of themselves, others, and their relationships”. In other words, mothers can play a significant role in educating their children as “education is fundamentally concerned with helping to develop people’s understanding of the world and life in its broadest sense”. 

Successful motherhood can bring up open-minded and communicatively competent generations who are on good terms with themselves as well as the world around them. In their investigation of the correspondence between Mistral and Victoria Ocampo, Horan and Meyer explain that, based on real life experience, Mistral is among Latin American writers who promote “interrelation and international cooperation”. 

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