The Other Mother

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline Summary

Coraline is about a young girl who is bored with her ordinary life. After moving into a new house she sees a door she is curious to go through, but when her mother opens it there' s nothing but a brick wall. At night the wall is gone and she goes through to find a world like hers, but with another mother, another father, and other neighbors where everyone has buttons for eyes. This world is more fun than Coraline's ordinary one and the other mother offers to let Coraline stay forever, if she can sew buttons on her eyes. Coraline refuses, but the other mother won't let her leave. Coraline has to save her parents and the souls of the children that the other mother has taken, and exploit the other mother's need to boast to trick her into letting them leave. In the end Coraline locks the other mother in the other world and throws the key down the well, where the other mother cannot reach.

The Other Mother

What Is The Other Mother?

It is mentioned in the book that the other mother is a beldam, or witch. Beldam was a word made up by the author, Neil Gaiman, that comes from the word belle-dame, meaning the beautiful lady without pity. She is a spider-like creature who tricks children into coming into her word and allowing her to sew buttons into their eyes, taking their souls and not allowing them to return home.

The Metaphor

The other mother is a metaphor for selfishness and desire.

When Coraline enters the other world, it has everything she wants from ordinary life. Her other parents give her more love and attention than her real ones, her neighbors are entertaining, and she is able to explore as much as she wants. Specifically, this other mother seems very eager to have her as a part of their other family. When Coraline refuses, though, she becomes desperate and takes Coraline's parents.

Originally this desperation for a child could be mistaken for loneliness, but once the other mother's true intention is revealed that idea becomes irrelevant. According to Vivienne Muller, a teacher in creative writing and literary studies, the other mother's interest "lies in the power she can draw from possessing the souls of children," not the child themselves. Her need for giving Coraline button eyes and confining her to the other world comes from the need of a soul, like she received from the other children, not companionship.

As for desire it is obvious that from the beginning of the book that the other mother uses that aspect of humanity to her advantage. Not only is the world everything Coraline wants, but the other mother herself changes to resemble Coraline's actual mother. This feeds Coraline's desire for attention from her mother rather than receiving the neglect she's normally given. But, as the author Neil Gaiman says, "sometimes the people who do pay you attention may not love you in the healthiest way." The other mother loves the power Coraline can give her and deceives her so that she'll believe that the other mother is what she wants. In this way it's rather obvious that the other mother herself is desire, not just using it. David Rudd, a professor in children's literature, believes the other mother "incarnates all that we need to set aside in order to live, but which will continue to shadow us." And while Caroline and the readers know that the other mother can be dangerous, her offers to allow Caroline to stay in the other world "can at all times seem appealing."

The scariest thing about the other mother is that she is originally shown in a human form, personifying desire and selfishness in such a way that is easy for readers to realize that humans can be just as terrifying for the same reasons as she is.

MLA Works Cited

"Based on a Novel by Neil Gaiman." LAIKA, n.d. Web. 18 May 2016.

Gaiman, Neil. New York: Scholastic, 2003. Print.

Muller, Vivenne. "Same Old "Other" Mother? : Neil Gaiman's Coraline." Outskirts Onlime Journal, 13 May 2012. Web. 4 May 2016.

Rudd, David. "An Eye for an I: Neil Gaiman's "Coraline" and Questions of Identity." University of Bolton, 18 May 2008. Web. 11 May 2016.