Our first book, Red Clocks by Leni Zumas, is undoubtedly the easiest to approach with regards to archetypes. Zumas decided to make it very easy for me and went ahead and assigned the characters archetypes herself, as the characters are referred to as The Biographer, The Wife, The Daughter and The Mender. But that doesn’t mean that my work is done. Zumas may have assigned the characters archetypes, but she left the analyzing of each to the reader.
The Wife and The Daughter
What ties these characters together is that each of these archetypes is a feminized one, a role defined by the men in their lives. The choice of archetype by Zumas is important, as each character easily fits into another, but their title is what defines them. The Wife, Susan, is also a mother, but she is not as defined by that role as she is by being a Wife. While she struggles with both roles, it is the role of The Wife that stifles her. She yearns to no longer be a Wife, no surprise, given the man she is married to, a man who refuses to go to couples counseling and barely reacts when Susan tells him she wants a divorce. It is because Susan struggles with her role as Wife that she struggles with her role as mother. Because her marriage is so stifling to her, it makes it that much harder to care for her children, a duty that has fallen solely to her, with her husband doing not much of anything to help. Out of all the main characters, Susan is the only one who is unhappy within her archetype, and thus the only one to eventually break out of her role.
The Daughter, Mattie, is a teenage girl who desperately does not want her new role to be The Mother. When she discovers she is pregnant, she is willing to go to great lengths to terminate the pregnancy, even though it is no longer legal in any circumstance. Mattie is also a student, a math whiz, an aspiring marine biologist. And yet it is her role as Daughter that defines her the most. Being a Daughter is important to Mattie, who was adopted. It is also important to note that Mattie is only fifteen. She has time in front of her when she can step into other roles, and by choosing to stay The Daughter and not become a mother, she believes she is giving herself a future. Another point of interest is that Mattie is also The Daughter to another character, Gin, The Mender, though Mattie does not know this, and Gin does not seem to think of Mattie in this way.
Gin’s role as The Mender is typically a female one. It is sometimes seen as The Healer and The Witch. However, unlike The Wife and The Daughter, Gin’s role is not defined by the men in her life, but the women. Gin’s knowledge of herbs and natural remedies comes to her via her Aunt Temple, and Gin uses this knowledge to help other women. While Gin lives in nature and is more “wild” than the other women, she is not The Crone that is often associated with witch characters. She is only in her thirties. Like Susan, Gin could also have been called The Mother, but like Mattie, Gin rejects this role. She carried and gave birth to Mattie, so she would know what it was like to grow another human. However, when Gin sees Mattie, she thinks of her as “the girl” and never as her daughter. Gin knows that giving birth does not necessarily make someone a mother.
The Biographer and The Polar Explorer
We now come to two characters who are inextricably linked, as The Polar Explorer, Eivor, is the one Ro, The Biographer, is writing about. They are also linked by the fact that their archetypes are not explicitly female but are more often associated with males. It is also important to note that within the story, Eivor is never clearly given an archetypal title. Her story is being written for her and Ro does not assign her one, perhaps to allow Eivor to retain some agency. The closest we see to Ro giving Eivor a title is in the opening lines of both Red Clocks itself, and Ro’s biography, in which Eivor is referred to as the polar explorer, though it is uncapitalized, unlike the other titles. However, this line is crossed out by Ro, implying that she decided against assigning Eivor a title. As for Ro, she tries desperately to become The Mother, though this goal moves further and further away from her as the novel progresses. However, she does often question why she wants to have a child, and if publishing a book would give her the same happiness.
One Last Thought
Something I found interesting throughout the novel is that motherhood is such a central theme, and yet there was no character to whom the title The Mother had been given. From an interview with Zumas,
““Motherhood” as a concept, as a mythology, can be a restrictive and punishing force in women’s lives: we inherit a narrow set of ideas about what it means to mother or not to mother, then our experiences don’t match up with the stories we’ve been told; and we feel guilty, alienated, isolated, ashamed. My “we” is too vast and vague here, I realize; I obviously don’t speak for everyone; but I do believe that centering or essentializing “mother” in any definition of female identity leads to suffering.”
By not having any one character be known as The Mother, Zumas has made a statement about there being no one way to be a mother.