Motherly Duties And Relations In Anne Enright’S The Forgotten Waltz

August 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

The female driven novel, The Forgotten Waltz, written by Anne Enright offers readers insight to the role and importance of women in modern-day Ireland. The protagonist, Gina Moynihan, throws herself into an affair and in doing so, is left to re-evaluate her relationship with the women and girls around her. Joan, Fiona, Megan, Aileen, and Evie become subject to scrutiny by Gina who lacks a significant mother-daughter relationship unlike the characters mentioned above. She is left to observe and criticize in order to mask the underlying sense of jealousy and insecurity. Enright captures this by making Gina the stark opposite of society’s ideal woman. Gina refuses to do anything for the purpose of obligation.

Her marriage to Conner is described as “good fun” (Enright 15). Her affair with Sean is prolonged by a lack of guilt. Gina’s decision to use contraceptives and remain childless is contrasted by the women around her. She instead focuses on her career at Rathlin Communications and her personal desires–what makes her happy. This lack of family motivation leaves Gina herself open to criticism by readers. Enright purposely does this to show the expectations for women that are still placed in today’s deeply misogynistic society. Enright does this mainly by highlighting the thoughts of Gina when she is around mothers and daughters. The novel depicts the mother-daughter relationship to be deeply intrinsic to womanly duties and an obligation that is meant to be put ahead of a woman’s own identity.

The first depiction of a mother-daughter relationship is presented by Fiona and Megan. Fiona is not given a identity during the first chapter of the novel. Instead, Fiona’s introduction shows her performing her hostly duties, passing plates and drinks around to the guests. Gina observes Fiona to be “a beautiful mother/hostess in her beautiful new home” (Enright 8). Gina rarely sees Fiona to be anything other than a mother throughout the novel. Fiona, to Gina, loses herself to the title of motherhood which supersedes any other or even simply just Fiona.

Fiona is also presented as a proper authoritative figure in front of her children. When Gina recalls Megan crying at the sight of a cigarette, Fiona’s parenting style comes off as overprotective and overly precautious (Enright 8). Megan is shielded from the world in Fiona’s attempts to keep her youth and purity. Fiona is also always on top of her tasks as a mother and it is shown in the beginning of the novel when everyone is headed towards the beach and Fiona is left trailing behind, racking her mind around the children’s needs (Enright 24). This persona is carried throughout the text and more intimately during Megan’s 9th birthday party. Fiona sits while Megan is painfully brushing her hair back. This touch that occurs between the two shows the matter-of-fact relationship the two have. As Gina describes, the relationship “wasn’t exactly love, and not quite war,” (Enright 45). Their love is not deep, yet Megan is not unfamiliar with her mother.

Another mother-daughter relationship that Enright enlightens readers with is that of Aileen and Evie. Gina describes Aileen as stringent and uptight which she supports by slandering Aileen’s job as a college administrator (Enright 85). Aileen is further characterized as such throughout the novel in instances such as Sean being put into the “dogbox” (Enright 136), bringing a Polish woman to catch up on the ironing (Enright 156), and hitting the au pair when Evie fell from the swing (Enright 189). Although Aileen’s character is demonized by the protagonist, her actions still carry out the strict personality that describes her. Motherhood does not fit Aileen and her relationship with both Sean and Evie comes off as an accomplishment more than anything else. She has successfully taken the “essential” steps of life; marriage and motherhood does not come naturally to her.

Gina’s own relationship with her mother is a complicated one. Gina represents most in the way that she forgets her mother in her adulthood. She reminisces about her mother throughout the novel after her death but never gives much thought when she is still alive. Phrases such as, “I don’t know when I’ll get it back to you” when she borrowed the costume ring (Enright 77), “[she] used to embarrass me” (Enright 75), and “I remember shouting at her, when I got in hungry one afternoon” (Enright 75) gives Gina an unaware and unappreciative attitude towards her mother. She is often caught up in her own mind that she does not give mind to her mother’s hardships and sacrifices that went into raising two daughters on her own. However, this very observations brings light to the duties of a daughter. Once again Gina is criticized by her negligence towards her mother when it is normal to get swept up in one’s own life and forget to see their mother as being more than simply a mother. Joan cared very much for appearances and how she was perceived by the world around her.

She is always well put together. Joan was also noted to be “tough as hell” (Enright 39). However, one can suspect Gina’s jealousy, not towards the other women in the novel such as Fiona and Aileen, but also towards her mother. Gina feels very much chaotic in comparison. Many reader can see Gina trying to emulate her mother. Gina does this by staying strong when Connor loses his temper on her, similar to her own mother who remained strong through her husband’s absence and death (Enright 145). Gina also does this by being rational when it comes to Joan’s house after her death even though Fiona remains nonchalant about it. She is subconsciously trying find pieces of her mother in herself to make up for the time the she has lost. Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz is a story built on the intimate relations between mothers and daughters. Through them, readers are awakened to the social norms and obligations women are still put through in modern day society. A woman’s identity is marked by her role as a mother and a wife. Gina Moynihan challenges this by remaining unapologetic towards her pursuit of happiness. Enright shows readers how complex women naturally are while society bottles them up into two-dimensional characters.

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