Sybil, Cosette, and Carrie

by Andrea Elizabeth

The west has given us pictures of monstrous mothers or guardians such as Sybil‘s, Cosette’s, and Carrie‘s. We are not really told what these mothers’ early lives were like. Could they have also been cast as protagonists if they had? Not if they turned out like they did. I have read a little about how the real Sybil, Shirley Ardelle Mason, lived the rest of her life somewhat peacefully alongside her therapist, turned friend. This was after some major mental illness though. I do not get the idea she stayed mad at her mother. Her mother had died, but even if she hadn’t, I think Sybil was content to live apart from her. I think forgiveness is more about finding peace with the past instead of trying to force it into something it never was by trying to invent a new, “normal” way of relating to the perceived monster. There is always the suspicion that childhood memories are warped, if not false pictures of what happened. They may be, but they are all the person has, and one cannot just will away their impressions of who their parents were. I think a new, healthy relationship with a nicer person is the only thing that can heal the past. Should we call her multiple personality disorder, if that’s what it was, sin? My impression of Sybil is that she was more interested in peace and beauty than in revenge or envy, so no, from what I’ve seen and read, I don’t think it was sin on her part, even if she found a way to check out of the situation. What saved her was that she was willing to close off her escape route into an unreal invention when she became aware of it. 

Cossette was rescued pretty early on, plus her real mother loved her, so she didn’t have as much to overcome. I still would have liked a little less of an idealized angelic characterization. Living with the Thenardiers would probably have planted more seeds of temptation that would have sprouted later on. Be they greed, lewdness, fornication, or other crudeness. You don’t usually live with that unscathed, but maybe it’s possible. On second thought, I do not believe Fantine, perhaps it was a different “lady all in white” that she saw? had no other options but prostitution, so that would have rubbed off on Cosette too. At least she wasn’t around it directly. Her dysfunction would probably have come out after she had kids of her own.

Carrie is probably the more realistic depiction of how someone with a more normally combative nature, though it was latent to begin with, deals with ill-treatment, and what it can do to you if you aren’t healed of it. I wonder if the newer movie is any good.