Outskirts online journal

Vivienne Muller

Further information

About the author

Vivienne Muller teaches in the discipline of Creative writing and Literary studies at Queensland University of Technology. Her research interests include representations of the maternal, sexuality and the body.

Publication details

Volume 26, May 2012

Same old ‘Other’ mother’? : Neil Gaiman’s Coraline

“What’s in the empty flat?” Coraline Jones, the eponymous young female protagonist of Neil Gaiman’s novella asks her mother. The mother’s response, “Nothing I expect. It probably looks like our flat before we moved in. Empty rooms.” (2009 34), establishes tropes of mirroring and idealised/non-idealised mothering that drives the action and fantasy levels of this very popular narrative for children and adolescents. The empty flat, the door to which is bricked up, is a reverse image of the one into which Coraline and her family have just moved. Coraline’s encounters with the family in the world on the other side of the brick wall have drawn considerable interest from critics many interpreting the text as a Freudian/Lacanian psychodrama of identity formation (most notably the oedipal crisis and its resolution) in which conscious and unconscious desires are in constant tension especially around mother/child relationships (Rudd). Central to Coraline’s experiences in the other world is the ‘other’ mother, a major character in her fantasy, and initially constructed as an idealised image of maternal care whose only concern is for the welfare and comfort of her child. But as the story unfolds, this belle dame rapidly transforms into the beldam sans merci, an old crone, a she-devil whose real interest lies in the power she can draw from possessing the souls of children such as Coraline. With its spotlight on Coraline’s battle with and eventual triumph over the evil other mother, Gaiman’s novella also appears to secure a narrative space for ‘real’ (that is imperfect) mothers as Coraline returns more contentedly to the ‘real’ world and her place within it. There is much in the text to support these readings of it, but they are contingent to a large extent on reader complicity in Gaiman’s use of archetypes and cultural stereotypes of the mother figure that feminisms have been intent on expunging, interrogating, or appropriating in positive ways. These include the wicked stepmother, the childless hag, the pre-Oedipal mother, the non-biological mother, the spinster, the ‘monstrous feminine’ (Creed) mother and the powerful Medusa figure. Such configurations of the feminine are effectively sequestered in the narrative as abject ones, relegated to the dark and formative stages of female maturation and thereby eliminated from informing mature femininity and maternal expression.

When we first meet Coraline and her family, they have only recently moved into one of the flats in a “very old house” with an attic, a run down garden and an empty well in the back yard” (Gaiman 3). The other flats in the house are occupied by two “old and round” former actresses Miss Spink and Miss Forcible (3) and a very eccentric “crazy old man with a big moustache” (4) who is unsuccessfully training a mouse circus. Although warned by her mother to not open a door to a bricked up passage situated in the living room of their flat, Coraline does just that and finds to her surprise that she can access another set of flats which turns out to be a mirror image of her own with an uncannily similar cast of characters to her own. There is an ‘other’ mother and father, an ‘other’ Misses Spink and Forcible (playing their young stage performing selves) and an ‘other’ crazy old man all of whom possess button eyes. There are other significant differences, but the most noteworthy presence in the other world is the all-consuming, powerful ‘other’ mother who is like but unlike Coraline’s real one. In her adventure in fantasy land, Coraline eventually rescues her parents who are kidnapped (parent-napped) by the wicked other mother, saves the souls of the other mother’s previous child victims and eventually destroys this maternal monster with the wily and timely help of a talking Cat.

There is general agreement amongst critics of Gaiman’s story for young readers that the simulacra beyond the brick wall and what happens there signify as sites and manifestations of unconscious anxieties and desires which mark Coraline’s stage in life in which her relationship with her parents (particularly her mother) are pivotal (Rudd; Parsons). Rudd in fact claims that Gaiman’s text ‘uncannily’ provides a blueprint for the oedipal process. Coraline’s activities in the other world coincide with a time in her life when she is still desirous of her parents’ attention and company yet craving some independence. In Freudian terms, she is about to undergo a resolution of the Oedipus complex which will enable her to move towards a specifically female adulthood. She is bored with the toys and games of childhood, and she wants to be different to other girls as is suggested in her desire to buy green Day-Glo gloves instead of school regulation ones. Sidelined by the inclement weather during the school holidays, she wanders aimlessly around the family house. Both her parents are too preoccupied with their respective work situations to alleviate her boredom. Her mother, busy at the computer advises “I don’t really mind what you do…as long as you don’t make a mess” (15). Her father responds by proposing she count the windows and doors in the house to keep amused. These suggestions indicate the ways in which both parents restrict and confine Coraline to the domestic and familiar, and in so doing, endorse her child status. Coraline’s attempts to find some recognition of her needs and developing sense of self are also frustrated outside the family structure and its spatial sites. For example the crazy old man upstairs and Miss Forcible and Miss Spinks misname her ‘Caroline’ instead of ‘Coraline’. In Lacanian terms, Coraline has reached a threshold moment in the development of subjectivity, one where if there is no affirmation of self in the symbolic order he/she runs the risk of retreating to a more regressive state, trapped in the mirror phase which allows only the play of the imaginary. In terms of the novella’s narrative arc, what happens next is as much an interesting iteration of this process as it is of the oedipal crisis. Against this backdrop of the symbolic order’s refusal of her ‘self’ as she experiences it, coupled with her need to be still linked in some essential way with her mother and father, Coraline’s fantasy/dreamworld is triggered.

That we are invited to read Coraline’s subsequent adventures in the narrative as a form of dream fantasy in which memory and repression play in equal parts, is evidenced by the fact that she is the only one whose character remains fundamentally the same while all others in her life have a distorted equivalent in the other world. Freud’s work with dreams as expressive of unfulfilled wishes is useful here, as there is a clear demarcation between Coraline’s ‘real’ world which fails to satisfy and her fantasy world in which her desire for attention is at least initially realised. Freud argues that dreams are a ‘(disguised) fulfillment of a (suppressed, repressed) wish” (244). Interpreting what the dream means is by no means simple or straightforward, reflecting the complicated nature of unconscious desire as Freud himself admitted. It is safe to conjecture that Coraline’s unlocking of the door to the other world beyond signifies as an expression of unconscious desire, the precise meaning of might be elusive but which is nevertheless tied to the ways in which Coraline’s fragile and formative sense of self is centrally connected with her relationship to her mother and her father. The first person Coraline meets in the house that mirrors hers is the prepossessing ‘other’ mother. The mirror as Lacan points out does not reflect back to us a real image rather it is a distorted one. So the other mother is both like and unlike the real: “She looked a little like Coraline’s own mother…” (38) but a major difference is that she has button eyes. When Coraline asks “Who are you?” she replies “I am your other mother”, (38) and a little later on in response to Coraline’s querulous “I did not know I had another mother”, she retorts, “Of course you do. Everyone does” (40). Lacan notes that the subject, through language, seeks affirmation of self. He writes: “What I seek in speech is the response of the Other. What constitutes me as subject is my question” (247). By initially projecting an idealised version of her real mother, Coraline casts her in a new symbolic order, narcissistically motivated, that confirms rather than abolishes her sense of self. In this respect, unlike her perception of her real mother, the other mother is, at least initially, the idealised nurturing mother, the pre-Oedipal mother who satisfies all needs. Freud identified the pre-Oedipal mother as central to the baby’s sense of an unbounded self continuous with the mother and thus with the pleasure principle and the satisfying of physical and emotional appetites. The other mother is initially this type of person on whom Coraline has projected her desire for the fulfillment of her latent and repressed wishes. She provides Coraline with sumptuous food “the best chicken she ever tasted”, and aesthetic delights – “an interesting colour scheme” in her other bedroom and a “whole toybox” filled with “wonderful animated and voice responsive toys” (41). Similarly this new symbolic order, in which the other (pre-Oedipal) mother is central, enables Coraline to facilitate the wishes of others. The Misses Spinks and Forcible reprise their own idealised ‘younger’ selves, re-enacting their former stage roles in a continuous loop. The old man who lives in the upstairs flat in Coraline’s real world becomes a successful mouse trainer. As registers of fulfilled wishes linked to repressed memory, these transformations elicit a positive response from Coraline - ‘this is more like it” (41) she says. However, it soon becomes apparent that the other mother is also a powerful and terrifying creature who wants to possess Coraline’s soul. In terms of the Oedipal crisis and its resolution the fantasy of the pre-Oedipal mother is a regressive step as Coraline soon finds out.

Freud’s uncanny, which also links with repressed memory of primary narcissism, is evoked here in the doppelganger figure that occupies the ambiguous interstices between familiar and strange. Freud comments in his 1919 essay on the uncanny that the double springs from “the primary narcissism which dominates the mind of the child” (211) and is linked to a fear of disappearing, of death. Once this stage is “sur-mounted”, he argues, “the ‘double’ reverses its aspect” and far from providing an “assurance of immortality” it becomes the “uncanny harbinger of death” (211). The doubling effect is central to the depiction of the mother figures in Coraline. The other mother is also the real mother in that she embodies Coraline’s unconscious feelings about her real one. The other mother is a constantly transforming mix of the solicitous and nurturing mother (satisfying primary narcissism) and threatening and fearsome crone (the uncanny harbinger of death) – thus embodying both aspects of the ways in which Coraline sees her own mother, but also the ways in which she needs to see her own mother as she begins to relinquish dependency on her. In order to accomplish this dependency and to move beyond primary narcissism, the pre-Oedipal mother must be demonised and made abject (Kristeva, 1982) so that the child can become an ‘I’, an individual functioning self. The button eyes of the other mother and her cohorts in the fantasy world of Coraline, play their symbolic role in the individuation process, resonating with Sophocles tale of Oedipus on which Freud based his psycho-sexual drama of identity formation. In that tale Oedipus finally sees what he has unwittingly done in committing incest with his mother, so cuts out his eyes. The self-punitive act acknowledges the importance of the social world in the formation of a heterosexualised self within family kinship systems. Arguably Gaiman’s adaptation of this story respects its message. In order to stay in the world of the other mother, Coraline will have to give up her eyes for buttons, thus condemning her to the perpetual darkness of the pre-Oedipal space where the mother is omnipotent. This she refuses.

In his comments on the girl’s resolution to the oedipal crisis, Freud contends that the girl both identifies with but renounces the mother. Coraline’s battle with and eventual destruction of the other mother at story’s end and her reconciliation with her own mother suggests that a resolution to the Oedipal crisis has been reached. In this reading, Coraline arrives at a place akin to Jessica Benjamin’s concept of mutual recognition in which the perceived omnipotence of the mother is dissipated “in the intersubjective space of mutual recognition and understanding” (in Schmidt-Cruz 40). Indeed Coraline’s eventual recognition of her affection for her real parents {“I want my parents back” (61) she tells the other mother} coupled with Coraline’s saving of her real parents in the fantasised /dream world, admits the significance of the intersubjective space as indeed does Coraline’s real mother who wakes Coraline from her dream and marks her return to the real world. Her real mother’s voice, as it guides her back to normality is one that Coraline describes as belonging to her “real, wonderful, maddening, infuriating, glorious mother…” (155). Critical interpretations of the text note the importance of the text’s message in Coraline’s movement from a state of self- need which triggers fantasies of the omnipotent archaic mother to a state of receptivity to the outside world and to (m)others in it. Bradford et al writes that “By recognizing other’s desires, Coraline comes to desire life as it was: a desire that is based not on utopian ideal, but on the limitations of what is possible” (149). What is possible in Coraline’s real world, the text seems to be suggesting, is the supportive but also independent mother, the parents who are not perfect, the acceptance of the quotidian.

While Gaiman’s story invites interpretive schema such as those I have already outlined to account for Coraline’s psychological progression from young female child to developing adult, they are largely predicated on abjectification of maternal and feminine figures. Moreover Freud’s oedipal script, on which the text appears heavily reliant, endorses a ‘normality’ of identity formation which is linear and uncomplicated. Brownstein observes that Freud’s account of identity formation “shifts from a primary narcissism, an internalized mother, to love object, an internalized father, the latter reified in symbolic forms and cultural prohibitions as the signatures of oedipal resolution” (14). Gaiman’s text underscores this drama as Coraline does battle with the mother and draws towards the ‘internalized father’ figures that become increasingly significant as the battle progresses. Young readers are clearly positioned to be empathetic to Coraline and to spur her on in her epic fight with the other mother, thus ensuring that they are complicit in the narrative’s “signatures of oedipal resolution.” The “internalized mother”, the pre-Oedipal mother is rapidly transformed into the “suffocating, ‘archaic mother’ with a more ‘phallic’ incarnation” (Rudd 166). She is, as Rudd points out, referencing Creed, the “monstrous feminine” (166). The black, gleaming button eyes of the other mother play a sinister role in this interpretive frame. They do not prevent the other mother from seeing; rather they enable her to see the world only as a reflection of her ‘self’ and her desire to accrete the power to serve it. This is also underscored in her husband’s (the other father) comment to Coraline: “This is all she made; the house, the grounds, and the people in the house. She made it and she waited” (85). That the other father is the one to confide this to Coraline indicates that the other mother’s power is wrongfully usurped from the masculine. The other mother has made the world in her own image, an assumption of the creativity that is traditionally “preserved as a godlike and male domain” (Morris 129).

Luce Irigaray notes that mothers and motherhood are allocated a “diminished meaning” in a patriarchal society, that of nurture without social and economic reward, procreation without sexualisation (Morris 129). Because of this lesser role and value, women can overcompensate by exercising an “over-possessive” maternity. Irigaray’s comments are not intended as an indictment of women who are like this, rather as a criticism of a social and symbolic order that shuts down choices and ways of being (or becoming) a woman. The other mother in Gaiman’s text clearly exhibits the characteristics of a suffocating maternity in her dealings with Coraline and other children emphasised in the reference to her house being the “colour of old milk” (107) while outside is a “misty, milky whiteness” (73). Gaiman’s portrait however, unlike Irigaray’s advocacy, or Helene Cixous’s veneration of the ‘white ink’ of the mother’s body, offers no redemptive inflection. When the cat proposes to Coraline that the other mother is perhaps looking for love, this is almost immediately dismissed as an unacceptable aspect of the maternal as the cat adds “or someone to eat”. Implicated in this exchange is that the mother looking for someone to love her is really hungry for a reflection of her own worth and power – in this she is the monstrous and not the ‘proper’ ‘self-less’ maternal feminine whose primary care is for her child. At one stage when Coraline refuses the other mother’s offer of a snack of black beetles, she is locked up as punishment her for her bad manners. The other mother explains to Coraline that it is “for your own good. Because I love you” (95). The juxtaposition of the grotesque with the more recognizable clichés of maternal disciplining permits a reading of the bad mother as the mother who eschews individuation of the child and whose own sense of self is predicated on this repudiation. This is driven home in another scene in which Coraline comes across three ghosts of children from the past who have been destroyed and whose spirits have been imprisoned by the other mother. One of these ghosts does not know if it was formerly a girl or boy, the implication being that the powerful mother has blocked the child’s path to ‘proper’ heterosexually gendered identity. The other mother is also referred to by the incarcerated ghosts of children the ‘beldam’, which conjures the image of a pitiless and unattractive creature thus reinforcing her assumed maternal power as unnatural. One description of the other mother references witch-like characteristics – her skin is “white as paper” her figure long and skinny, her fingers have “dark-red fingernails curved and sharp”(38). The beldam is, according to sources, an old woman or hag, a witch-like creature, particularly an ugly one, a crone, believed to be evil and one who in some definitions abuses children. Beldam is also a term that has been used to refer to old women and grandmothers. The word both outside and within the context of Gaiman’s novel, is a misogynistic play on the French words belle and dame meaning beautiful woman. The masculine adjective bel is used instead of belle implying that women who are ‘unsexed’ to use Lady Macbeth’s term, or who assume masculine god-like powers are unnatural. This is reinforced in the reference to the other mother having killed and buried her own mother to become self-sufficient. Both the beldam and belle dame images are activated in Gaiman’s representation of the seductive but bad mother who abuses children, a portrayal that is very familiar in fairy tales from Hansel and Gretel to Snow White. There is also a suggestion that she is an unnatural mother because she cannot have children of her own. She invokes in this the spectre of the cruel step-mother who has no innate idea about how to mother, whose power derives from the pleasure of denying others their maternal destinies or their children’s love.

Other female characters in Gaiman’s text also play a part in Coraline’s path towards resolution of the oedipal crisis. Misses Forcible and Spinks the older eccentric former actresses constantly reliving their glory days, while sympathetic figures and instrumental in Coraline’s battle with the other mother, are nevertheless a reminder of the dangers of road not taken on the oedipal journey. Instead of children Misses Forcible and Spinks have dogs with names like Hamish, Angus and Bruce. When Coraline looks for the two women in the other world as part of her battle with the other mother for mastery, she finds them hanging from the ceiling. The description provides an image of grotesque and distorted femininity with its coupling of the two women and its unproductive outcomes – “Inside the sac was something that looked like a person, but a person with two heads, with twice as many arms and legs as it should have. The creature in the sac seemed horribly unformed and unfinished, as if two Plasticine people had been warmed and rolled together, squashed and pressed into one thing” (118). This configuration severely reduces their power as self-sufficient women but it also reminds us that even when they were first introduced in the ‘real’ world, their self-images were often reflected through the male gaze. For example they would refer nostalgically and wistfully to the adoring men in their lives when they were young and beautiful. Moreover, the stone with a hole in it that they give to Coraline as a kind of protective talisman animates an image of the empty womb, so that when Coraline uses it as a magnifying glass to find the magical marbles that will secure victory over the other mother, its power is revealed as ultimately limited.

The stone helps Coraline win a battle with the other mother, but it does not win the war – that issues largely from Coraline’s real father and the patriarchal nature of the real world he and Coraline inhabit. Coraline’s memory of her father when she was very small redeems something of the phallic power that has been usurped by the mother figures and points towards Coraline’s ‘proper’ Oedipalisation where she must identify the father/male figure as her eventual sexual partner. Coraline is strongly motivated to go into battle with the other mother and save her parents through her memory of her real father rescuing her from a swarm of wasps when she was a small child by standing there and taking the stings while she ran to safety (71). When she finds the other mother’s husband (Coraline’s other father) in the basement of the flat, Coraline feels sympathy for him recognising that he is a victim of his wife’s male-like creational power. It might be worthwhile mentioning here that in the film version of Coraline, a young boy Wybie is included as Coraline’s supportive side-kick and while it can be argued that he takes a secondary role one wonders why he was necessary at all. There is the possibility that his presence as a typically active boy figure goes some way to reinforcing the heterosexual resolution of Coraline’s oedipal crisis in which the girl is sexually cathected to the male. The cat in both versions of the story is also interesting. It is he who advises Coraline and to a large degree guides her in her encounters with the other mother and it is he who is most at home with his identity both in the real and the fantasy worlds. He seems to represent the proprietorial aura of phallic mastery that knows and names the world in much the same way as the Cheshire cat does in Alice in Wonderland.

Femininst engagement with Freud’s work takes issue with the abjectification of the mother and the reduction of her role to bit player in the larger drama of identity formation. Kristeva writes: “The loss of the mother – which for the imaginary is tantamount to the death of the mother - becomes the organizing principle for the subject’s symbolic capacity” (in Nikolchina 3). Kristeva’s work, particularly her assertion of prior language in the semiotic chora (identified with the pre-Oedipal) is a valorisation of the mother and the irruptive power of the semiotic that, unlike the linear oedipal story, refuses the stabilisation of identity. However it is clear that Kristeva recognizes the endurance of cultural stories, such as the oedipal one when she writes: “Phallic idealization is built upon the pedestal of a putting to death of the feminine body” (in Nikolchina 3). Kristeva’s comments here express her understanding of the cost to women of the suppression of the feminine in the phallocentric order, particularly the devaluation of the maternal body and a language with which to speak it. Engaging with Kristeva’s ideas, Nikolchina writes that “There is no symmetry between patricide and matricide; patricide produces lineage; matricide is perpetuated as erasure of the ‘name of the mother’” (3). Gaiman’s text appears to adhere to this narrative. The passageway to the other world is described in terms that are evocative of fallopian tubes at the end of which looms the disturbing figure of the other mother. Coraline smells this womb-like space before she experiences its frightening forms: “It smelled like something very old and very slow” (26). It is made abject as is the mother whose generative power is recognised in its figuration. When Coraline overcomes the other mother and returns through the dank passageways to the real world she is in a sense ‘re-birthed’ into the clean and proper patriarchal world. She begins to embody and enact a self that bears the markers of heteronormative femininity which will, in turn, eventually lead to proper womanhood and motherhood as patrilineally defined.

The story does not however end there. During her escape through the passageway to the safety of her own flat, Coraline catches the other mother’s hand in the door. This hand now resides in Coraline’s real world, and its presences could be positively read in the light of Kristeva’s claims about destabilising power of the semiotic. Mansfield and Fuery describe the relationship between the semiotic and the symbolic in the following way:

The semiotique, on the other hand, operates outside of (perhaps beneath is a better metaphor) this symbolic order. If the symbolic is structured, ordered and directed towards communication, the semiotique is unstructured, free-flowing, and chaotic. It opposes the symbolic, and continually tries to disrupt it. In this way it parallels the operation of the unconscious (126).

In Coraline however what lies beneath the ordered world of the symbolic with its press towards heteronormativity is not tolerated for long as the narrative discloses. The other mother’s hand, in keeping with the monstrous feminine that is emphasised in her portrayal, is more metonymic of a dangerous femininity and destructive mothering that must be subdued. This is what exactly what occurs. Coraline sets up a picnic with her dolls to protect herself from the other mother and it is this deliberately performative action which includes a poem that her father used to recite to her as a child that she now uses to trap the other mother’s hand in the well. This scene hints at the importance of castration in affirming the power of the internalised father as much as it identifies the elimination of the internalised mother as central to its project. The juxtaposition of the images of acceptable and unacceptable femininity, of good and bad mothers at this juncture strongly enunciates their irreconcilable differences.

There are other references to powerful female figures captured in the fictional construction of the other mother in Gaiman’s text, and these too resonate with the darker side of cultural representations/inscriptions of the feminine. The other mother’s hair, described as “twined and twisted about her neck and shoulders” (94) and “drifting around her head like the tentacles of a creature in the deep ocean” (75), leverages a connection to Medusa’s figure with her head of writhing snake-like forms. Medusa we know from classical Greek and later Roman mythology was a powerful and destructive figure – a monstrous gorgon who would turn to stone all who looked at her. There are various versions of this myth, most alluding to her beauty as well as her power and aggression. In the classical tale she was beheaded by Perseus who accomplished the deed by holding up his shield which mirrored Medusa’s gaze back to her. Feminist engagement with the Medusa story has been varied but most tend to exhort her as an embodiment of women’s power and the story of her demise a telling tale of male misogyny. Culpepper comments "The face (of Medusa) attracts those women who identify with its fiercely independent assertion of woman power” (240). Helene Cixous writes in The Laugh of the Medusa “You only have to look at the Medusa straight on to see her. And she's not deadly. She's beautiful and laughing” (885). Gaiman’s text remains faithful to the original Medusa myth in its condemnation of the woman who usurps male power and appears to pay homage to Freud’s psychoanalytic and analogic appropriation of the myth. Freud argues in The Medusa’s Head that the decapitation of the Medusa signifies castration: “To decapitate = to castrate…..it occurs when a boy who has hitherto been unwilling to believe the threat of castration, catches sight of the female genitals, probably those of an adult, surrounded by hair, and essentially those of his mother” (in Garber and Vickers 84). The other mother’s emasculating powers in the Coraline text are expressed in her domineering relationship with her ineffectual husband whom she eventually imprisons and reduces to a slug-like creature in the basement of their flat. The deflated phallus analogy is not hard to miss in Gaiman’s description of what was once the “thing that had been (Coraline’s) other father” – “the thing was pale and swollen, like a grub, with thin, stick-like arms and feet. It had almost no features on its face, which was puffed and swollen like risen bread dough”- a “mouth opened in a mouthless face, strands of pale stuff sticking to the lips” (129).

While the fantasy of the other mother flexes and conflates unflattering stereotypes of maternal/female figures, the depiction of Coraline’s real mother is not without its problems. With Coraline as the focaliser in the text, empathy is with her and her frustrated attempts to gain some recognition from her working parents who do not appear to have time or the interest to attend to her. The early scenes featuring the real mother tend to accentuate her neglect of her daughter in the interests of her work and her deficiencies as a good provider and nurturing mother are also augmented. She is not a good cook and appears to frequently overlook her family’s physical as well as psychological needs. This is expressed in the scene where, finding there is only a “sad little tomato and a piece of cheese with green stuff growing on it “(35) in the fridge, decides to go to the shop for fish fingers – a very recognisable fall back choice of working mothers. It is shortly after this scenario of neglect that Coraline’s fantasies of the disappearing real parents and the appearance of the other mother who provides delicious and nutritious meals take place.


Coraline is a text that has enormous appeal to many readers – both children and adults. At its most elementary level it works as a seductive and scary Gothic tale in which a young female does battle with an old powerful witch, saves the day and is reconciled with her parents. At the psychodramatic level, it can and has been read as a clever articulation of the female oedipal crisis and an allegorical rendition of unconscious emotions at play in this process. In executing this mission however, as this article proclaims, the text draws on a number of insistent and limiting archetypes and stereotypes of the (maternal) feminine that continue to have cultural and social currency.


Bradford, Clare, Kerry Mallan, John Stephens, and Robyn McCallum. ed. New World orders in Contemporary Children’s Literature: Utopian Transformations. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Brownstein, Marilyn L. “The Archaic Mother and Mother and Mother: The postmodern Poetry of Marianne Moore.” Contemporary Literature 30.1 (Spring 1989): 13-32.

Cixous, Helene, Kenneth Cohen, and Paula Cohen. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” Signs 1.4 1976: 875-893.

Freud, Sigmund. “The Medusa’s Head.” Trans. James Strachey. The Medusa Reader. Ed. Garber, Marjorie and Nancy Vickers. Great Britain: Routledge, 1922, 84-87.

Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” Writings on Art and Literature. Ed. Werner Hamacher and David Wellbery. California: Stanford University Press, 1997. 193-233.

Fuery, Patrick and Nicholas Mansfield, ed. Cultural Studies and the New Humanities: Concepts and Controversies. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Gaiman, Neil. Coraline. UK: Harper Collins, 2006.

Garber, Marjorie and Nancy Vickers, ed. The Medusa Reader. Great Britain: Routledge, 2003.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Kristeva, Julia. Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Margaret Waller. New York: Columbia, 1984.

Kristeva, Julia. Black Sun. Trans. Leon Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

Lacan, Jacques. Ecrits. Trans. Bruce Fink. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007.

Morris, Pam. Literature and feminism: an introduction. Oxford UK: Blackwell, 1993.

Nikolchina, Miglena. Matricide in Language: Writing Theory in Kristeva and Woolf. Princeton: Other Press, 2004.

Parsons, Elizabeth, Naarah Sawers, and Kate McInally. “The Other Mother: Neil Gaiman’s Postfeminist fairytales.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 33.4 (2008): 371-38.

Rudd, David. “An Eye for an I: Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and Questions of Identity.” Children’s Literature in Education. 39 (2008): 159-168.

Schmidt-Cruz, Cynthia. Mothers, Lovers, and Others: The Short Stories of Julio Cortazar. New York: Suny Press, 2006.

Back to top