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Who Could Be a 'Mother'?

paddington's picture

“ ’Chicken Little is imprinting on me. That’s her name. Wanna see?’ She approached and … and I could see the chick’s bright, beady eye. ‘Okay, that’s enough,’ Ocean said, … ‘I don’t want her to imprint on you.’ (p. 159)”

Ocean treats Chicken Little with a great affection. She lets Yumi to see it but just for a moment because she does not want it to recognize Yumi as its mother. Moreover, she may wants to be its only mother.

‘Imprinting’ is a phenomenon discovered by biologist Lorentz. Generally, chicks follow their mother geese soon after they are hatched; however when Lorentz made the egg of chick hatch in front of him for an experiment, the chick started to follow him after it hatched. Even when he pushed it close to its real mother, it followed Lorentz not its mother. It was because he was the first object came into its eyesight.

‘Imprinting’ is a term usually discussed in psychology or education field as one of the ways of acquisition, but considering it by focusing on the term ‘mother’, who is the mother of this chick?

According to Oxford Dictionary of English, the prior meaning of ‘mother’ is ‘a woman in a relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth.’ Following this definition, in the paragraph for explanation of ‘imprinting’ I mentioned ‘mother’ referring to the goose, which gave birth for the chick. However this chick does not recognize it as its ‘mother’ and only follow Lorentz. In this case, can we still call it ‘mother’?

In All Over Creation, the role of ‘mother’ is not simple. Momoko is a ‘mother’ of Yumi. Yumi is a ‘mother’ of Phoenix, Ocean and Poo. Charmie is a ‘mother’ of Tibet. These mothers are all ‘mother’s in the prior meaning in Oxford English Dictionary.

To focus on Yumi’s children, they follow Cass who looks after them instead for Yumi or other characters rather than Yumi. Then the same doubt as thinking of the chick arises here. Can we still call Yumi his ‘mother’? In this case, what is more, Yumi does not treat him and the other two as her children. She drinks, smokes and hangs out a lot even though her children are not grown up yet. It is obvious that she lacks of responsibility to be a mother of three children. On the contrary, Cass takes enough care of them. Viewing objectively, Cass is seemed to be much more like a ’mother’ of them than Yumi but still they are Yumi’s children.

Sara Ruddick who addressed the issue of ‘mothering’ suggested that “maternity is only ever a social practice, one that can be performed by men and women alike, and with a range of ‘others’ that may or may not be our biological children.” That is, ‘mother’ does not have to be who gave birth to her children. Lorentz is a ‘mother’ of the chick. Cass is a ‘mother’ of the three children.

In my opinion, what defines ‘mother’ is gratuitous love. Even if the ‘mother’ could not care children enough, love towards them proof that that ‘mother’ is a mother. From this perspective, Yumi is also a mother of her three children.

Overall, definition of ‘mother’ has multiple choices since we are human beings that have mind. Not just like a chick recognizes the first object came into its sight as a ‘mother’, we could think. Hence, definition of ‘mother’ varies according to their environment, viewpoint, belief and moralistic.


Works Cited

Ruth Ozeki. All Over Creation. Penguin, 2004. Print.

Lisa Baraitser. “Sara Ruddick, 1935-2011 A Mother’s Thought RP 167  (May/Jun 2011)/Obituary.” Radical Philosophy. RP, 2011. Web. Nov. 6, 2015.–2011

paddington. “Who Could Be a ‘Mother’? draft.“ Serendip Studio. Serendip Studio, 2015. Web. Nov. 6, 2015. /oneworld/changing-our-story-2015/who-could-be-mother-draft


Anne Dalke's picture

in this draft, as in your earlier one, I see you exploring the interesting connection between the biological concept of 'imprinting' and the social practice of 'mothering.' I'd nudge you to keep working on, and thinking through, that connection: is the mother the one on whom each of us 'imprints' (whether or not she has given birth to us)? If so, does that make Frank the 'mother' of Phoenix, who so admires him, and follows him around?

Ruddick describes mothering as the practice of protecting and fostering the growth of children, of making them socially acceptable; are you suggesting that this happens mostly by the children copying the behavior of the mother (i.e, by their "imprinting" on them)? That seems to be the implication of the first half of your essay, although you don't explicitly develop this argument.

And then you turn (surprisingly!) to "gratuitous love." I'm not understanding how that concept--of a gift, uncalled for, unreasonable, unwarranted--is related either to Lorentz's imprinting or to Ruddick's socializing. Do you remember our discussion (in "Take Back the Market") of the impossibility of gift-giving? Of how that action is always done in expectation of return? In those terms, I'd say that mothering is never 'gratuitous'! (Do you think, for instance, that the love of either Yumi or Cass can be described in those terms?)

I was surprised, too, by your slipping in what you call an "objective" view of Cass's mothering practices (remember our discussions about the impossibility of being objective...? of all claims being socialy situated....?).

Finally: remember that your list of works cited need to be alphabetized
, last names first.

Thanks for this interesting thinking....