Jungian Mother Archetype in Children’s Literature Essay

August 26, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Jul 16th, 2020

The concept of archetypes is one of the core theories in developmental psychology. The formation of archetypes and the effects they produce have been discussed by multiple psychologists. One of the first professionals to explore and expand the theory was Carl Jung. In psychology, the mother archetype has become the foundation of what psychologists call mother-complex (Stromer 3). Stromer maintains that “mothers will always play a critical role in disturbing or reshaping infantile neuroses” (5).

The Great Mother Archetype is widely used to portray the most appropriate values and behaviors that participate in the restoration of a feminine ego. In literature, the characters depicting mother figures reflect the mother archetype and function as guidelines for the issues of the spectrum. This paper discusses three literary works to determine how the authors employ the Jungian mother archetype to develop the personalities of the leading protagonists. The books “Charlotte’s Web”, “The Root Cellar”, and “The Secret Garden” explore how the restoration of the loss of the feminine ego can have nourishing implications on the lives of the affected individuals. However, the appearance of new hope has the potential to restore this feminine ego and eventually promote happiness.

Mother Archetype and Its Meaning for the Children

The behaviors and actions of different mothers can split the psyche of the children thus resulting in neurosis associated with hatred and antagonism. The examination of the mechanisms of the mother archetype and its effect on children helps the professionals to identify the tendency that demonstrates “how resistance to a mother can arise due to the parent’s inhibition of specific feminine aspects or because of increased societal supremacy” (McCarthy 6).

The Jungian approach argues that the instincts of small children tend to be disturbed during their early years. The disturbance of this nature usually constellates new archetypes that define the relationships between children and their mothers. For instance, Young children whose mothers are overanxious tend to link them with witchcraft or hatred. Additionally, some children might have dreams portraying their mothers as terrifying animals. As a result, a neurosis that splits the psyche of the children may form at the early stages of children’s development.

Mother Archetype in Charlotte’s Web

In the book Charlotte’s Web, the author uses the archetype of a mother to develop the personality of the main protagonist. Despite being an ordinary spider, Charlotte plays the role of a mother figure to the pig named Wilbur. It is noteworthy that initially, the image of a spider is not traditionally associated with care and love. On the contrary, a spider may be viewed as a symbol of a sinister character or a trickster archetype. The relationship between Charlotte and Wilbur is characterized by a strong bond that makes the two characters content and represents new opportunities and hopes (White 43). The bond between the two characters is long-lasting; Wilbur plays the role of a child in need of advice and guidance while Charlotte brings genuine kindness and warmth caring about him (White 47).

To enrich the story with contrast, the author adds the character called Templeton who represents the traits that should be discouraged in society. Templeton appears to display a different personality compared to Charlotte demonstrating selfish and dishonest behaviors. While Templeton is cold and ignorant, Charlotte provides support, empowerment, and consideration. Moreover, even though Charlotte dies during the story, the memory the other characters continue to cherish depicts her as a symbol of vitality. The author employs animals as the main characters as young children tend to connect with animals easier than with human characters thus encouraging them to see Charlotte as a representation of a caring mother, and Templeton as an enemy.

Mother Archetype in The Secret Garden

The story “The Secret Garden” by Francis Hodgson Burnett is a masterpiece that ignites the positive attributes of Jungian Great mother archetype. Narrated from the perspective of Mary, the story depicts the true healing that can arise from a secret garden. Mary encounters numerous challenges thus being unable to achieve most of her potentials. The heroine eventually steals a secret garden thus being able to redefine the lives of many people. This story depicts the issues associated with the absence of the Great Mother. This description shows that there is a matriarchal consciousness that dwells in the psyche and life of every individual.

The author shows that Mary was always forced to play outside (Burnett 65). However, she eventually discovers an enclosed secret garden. This kind of exploration shows how the young girl finds a fortune in the garden. This is the case because the garden appears to heal her feminine ego (Bixler 117). She finds new opportunities in the garden and begins to rediscover her instincts. This portrayal shows clearly how “human beings can have a restoration of themselves and eventually find happiness” finding the ways to connect with various aspects of their personalities (Bixler 117).

The story goes further to describe how Mary becomes the healer and shaman. In other words, having obtained unity with her inner mother figure, the character acquires an ability to help others. These qualities are traditionally associated with the archetype of a mother whose role is to take care, empower, inspire, and help.

Driven by her inner maternity, Mary presents great hope and wholeness to many people encouraging them to connect to the natural environment. The process also plays a significant role in restoring their instincts. As a unity, Mary and the secret garden, therefore, appear to portray the mother archetypal image. The dormant garden becomes the source of inspiration that restores life and hope. It also appears to protect and safeguard the most appropriate values in society, which is another significant role of a mother (Burnett 89). Mary’s secret garden “delivers the positive qualities associated with the Great Mother archetype” (Bixler 119).

The Jungian mother archetype is used to comfort every crying or suffering person in the story. The author uses this archetype to show how the lost feminine is eventually restored and activated. The secret garden is also opened thus bringing new hope to more individuals. The novel encourages the readers to seek for the secret gardens within themselves and connect with their nature.

Mother Archetype in The Root Cellar

It is acknowledgeable that The Root Cellar is an outstanding story that can guide many children. The work presents timeless themes that are described using carefully developed characters. The theme of the great mother archetype is developed from the very beginning of the story. For instance, the malpractices committed by Rose Larkin’s relatives show clearly how the world has fallen. Adults are unable to provide the required guidance and authority to the young children thus forcing them to search for answers of their own. The challenges encountered by Rose are degrading. However, the book delivers a tale of redemption supported by mythical arguments and biblical symbolism (Lunn 28).

Rose’s relatives are used to painting a clear picture of the evils committed by many individuals in the society. Despite such challenges, Rose manages to find new hope in the root cellar. This cellar is a strong archetypal and symbolic tool that gives new life (Lunn 52). The root cellar is also protective and nurtures powerful qualities that can be associated with the Great Mother Archetype (Stromer 6). That way, it becomes the only place where she can find refuge. The root cellar represents a safe place, a shelter, and comfort zone as it makes Rose feel as if “she is suddenly transported back to the 1860s” (McCarthy 5).

In her shelter, the protagonist escapes from the mistreatments, hardships, and pains encountered in life. As a result, Rose’s life serves as a symbol of the wounded feminine ego (McCarthy 6). Similarly to Mary and the secret garden, the cellar provides Rose with an opportunity to reconnect with her lost instincts, restore her abilities and hopes (Lunn 97). The destruction of the cellar is a permanent transformation that redefines Rose’s life. Eventually, throughout the story, every individual is comforted. The root cellar is a symbol of nurture and protection, the qualities that are associated with the mother archetype.


The above literary works show how the retrieval of every lost feminine ego in a person’s life is a phenomenon that can deliver deep healing. The first book describes Charlotte, ad unlikely and non-traditional shapes of a motherly figure whose presence in Wilbur’s life delivers new opportunities, support, empowerment, and facilitates healing. Charlotte’s care affects every character in the story. Her actions and traits can be described to symbolize the best virtues such as hope, vitality, and unconditional love (McCarthy 7). The archetype of a mother, therefore, remains the most admirable attribute of Charlotte’s personality.

Burnett’s tale goes further to show how a secret garden, a symbol of redemption, discovered by Mary renews the lives of many individuals. The garden becomes a powerful image that revitalizes and protects. The nurturing attributes and aspects of the secret garden and Mary who is driven by its nourishment mirror those of the mother archetype. The notions of the Great Mother archetype are also exemplified in the book The Root Cellar where Rose manages to find refuge that eventually becomes the unlikely source of her redemption. It plays “a positive role in the retrieval of the lost feminine” nurturing Rose and promoting her maternal features (Stromer 5).

In conclusion, these three books explore how the restoration of the loss of the feminine ego can have nourishing implications on the lives of multiple affected characters generating support, care, protection, selfless love, and healing. Connecting all of these aspects with the female characters who represent mother archetypes, the stories educate young children about the roles of mothers in their lives and appropriate ways to interact with the mothers. Presenting nurturing and selfless feminine mother figures the authors of children’s literature teach the young readers as to the expectations from the mother-child relations, the fulfillment and help a mother has to offer.

Works Cited

Bixler, Phyllis. “The Secret Garden ‘Misread’: The Broadway Musical as Creative Interpretation.” Children’s Literature 22.1 (1994): 101-123. Print.

Burnett, Frances. The Secret Garden. London: Heinemann, 2011. Print.

Lunn, Janet. The Root Cellar. Toronto: Seal Books, 2001. Print.

McCarthy, Michael. “The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children’s Literature.” Jabberwocky 14.1 (2010): 1-11. Print.

Stromer, Richard 2010, The Good and the Terrible: Exploring the Two Faces of the Great Mother. Web.

White, Elwyn. Charlotte’s Web. New York: HarperCollins, 2003. Print.

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