Examine the importance of close family relationships as represented in Gabriela Mistral’s Fear.
Gabriela Mistral is the first Latin American poet to win the Nobel Prize (1945). Motherly love is one of the major themes in her writing and in the poem Fear, she brings these sentiments to light from the perspective of a mother. I will explore how she portrays a mother’s love which borders on selfishness. As the title suggests, the mother is consumed by the fear that her daughter will be taken away from her because the daughter has become a part of who the mother is. The daughter is a part of the mother’s identity. After giving birth to her, feeding her and tending to all her needs for years and years, it is natural that the mother would feel a certain fear or anxiety when she realizes that the daughter will leave her.
‘She would fly far away into the sky
And never fly again to my straw bed.’
The poet compares the daughter to a swallow by using a metaphor and extends it saying that she will
fly away, never to return. It is an apt metaphor as the swallow is a migratory bird which connotes the fact that the daughter herself will eventually leave home. She would create her own path in life. But the mother is unwilling to let her go, and contemplates the love that she has offered to her – this is a reminder about the importance of not forgetting your roots, or your family, which holds a very special kind of love for their own.
The daughter adds purpose and meaning to the mother. Taking care of her child who needs her love
and attention for many years is something that every mother does. In the process of doing so, the life
of the mother becomes entangled with the life of the daughter and she becomes her priority. In
addition, caring for the child becomes a meaningful and purposeful responsibility. It is an opportunity for the mother to shower her love upon the child. The mother laments that the daughter may forget the importance of her family relationships as she becomes older and more independent. She reminisces upon the little gestures of love and care and how she is unable to perform them anymore:
I could not comb her hair
No longer would she sleep at my side
I could never rock her
All these gestures of love are important to the mother as much as they are important to the daughter.
It is a part of a mother’s love which consolidates her identity as a mother. Combing her hair suggests
grooming the child and preparing her. Sleeping at her side and rocking her suggests the warmth, love, comfort and protection the mother offers the child. The mother longs to keep her daughter with her and continue to offer these gestures of love to her. She reminds us that it is a mother’s love which pours itself in this manner without expecting much in return. It is also a reminder to us that even though children grow up to become independent and build their own life, a mother will always look upon her son or daughter as a child and would yearn to be able to attend to their needs and shower them with their love. This need to love and need for love is an important dynamic in family
relationships. It adds meaning and purpose to the life of the family members. Therefore, even as she
pleads them not to take her away from her, she is also pleading the daughter to not leave her, or at
least not forget the importance of close family relationships.
The mother expresses fear about the daughter being preoccupied by wealth and status, leading her
to neglect her family – especially the mother. She also reveals her sentiments about people trying to
restrict her daughter and limit her potential. She imagines her daughter
‘In tiny golden slippers
How could she play on the meadow?’
The mother fears that the daughter will have to sacrifice her natural self to conform to an image that
‘they’, or society, wants her to embrace. The tiny golden slippers suggest wealth and superficial
glamour as opposed to a girl playing on the meadow, which connotes freedom and joy. With ‘tiny
golden slippers’ on, which sounds very constricting, rigid and painful, she won’t be able to enjoy
playing – this may suggest her inability to enjoy life. The mother is concerned that society will
transform her into someone who is unable to understand the true nature of things, or the true beauty of things. Likewise she fears that the daughter may fail to realize the people that truly love her and care for her – her mother and her family. She emphasizes that at home with family, she will always be allowed to be her true self – the girl who loves to play in the meadow. The family is portrayed as a safe place; a place where she has no pressure to embrace false and superficial elements which limit her freedom and enjoyment of life.
She uses the metaphor of a queen in the final stanza to imagine how she would become an
independent woman with wealth, authority and confidence. The daughter would not need her mother anymore. This thought of being useless for the daughter after many years of caring for her is
unbearable. She fears that the daughter will forget her and that she would be preoccupied with her
own world of wealth and power.
‘They would put her on a throne
Where I could not go to see her.’
The mother fears that she would be surrounded by other people who would take care of her and pay
attention to her. She fears that her daughter would find other people as more valuable and important in her life. This selfishness is birthed out of the immense love that she has poured out on the daughter’s life. The daughter leaving her feels like a part of her identity is being taken away from her. In the last stanza, it is a plea asking the daughter to not forget the close relationships with her family – especially her mother – and that she will always remain her ‘little daughter’ even though she becomes independent and creates her own kingdom. It reminds us that the mother needs her
daughter as much as her daughter needed the mother while she was growing up.
As discussed in the above paragraphs, the poet explores the anxieties of a mother about a daughter
eventually leaving home. I have explored how the mother emphasizes the love that only a family can
offer the meaningfulness and purpose that a family can give you. The family as a safe place where you can be yourself and the importance of taking care of the members of the family, even when you are independent and are comfortable in your own kingdom, are also highlighted in the essay.