The Feminine Mystique

Borne from Freud’s notion of penis envy, “the devouring mother” compensates for her lack of a penis by having a son, then devotes all of her energy toward his care and the satisfaction of his every wish. The “devouring mother” is co-dependent and “consumes” her children, particularly her sons, emotionally and psychologically. She seeks fulfillment through her children because the feminine mystique has convinced her that her identity is inseparable from her roles as wife and mother. Friedan uses the female protagonists from Tennessee Williams’s plays as exemplars of the archetype. As Southern women, they are particularly devoted to the feminine mystique. Their relationships with their sons reflect a love-hate due to their sons’ needs for self-actualization as well as their guilt over becoming independent of their needy mothers.

The Devouring Mother Quotes in The Feminine Mystique

The The Feminine Mystique quotes below are all either spoken by The Devouring Mother or refer to The Devouring Mother. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the W.W. Norton edition of The Feminine Mystique published in 1963.
Chapter 12 Quotes

And so progressive dehumanization has carried the American mind in the last fifteen years from youth worship to that sick “love affair” with our own children; from preoccupation with the physical details of sex, divorced from a human framework, to a love affair between man and animal.

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:
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We have gone on too long blaming or pitying the mothers who devour their children, who sow the seeds of progressive dehumanization, because they have never grown to full humanity themselves. If the mother is at fault, why isn’t it time to break the pattern by urging all these Sleeping Beauties to grow up and live their own lives? There will never be enough Prince Charmings, or enough therapists to break that pattern now. It is society’s job, and finally that of each woman alone. For it is not the strength of the mothers that is at fault but their weakness, their passive childlike dependency and immaturity that is mistaken for “femininity.”

Related Characters: Betty Friedan (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Feminine Mystique
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:
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