Female Archetype Mother Teresa and Goddess Kali Research Proposal

Pages: 8 (2385 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology

¶ … Compassionate Mother Archetype

Mythological archetypes can be found almost anywhere one is willing to look for them. Joseph Campbell began his exploration of myths and mythological figures -- and his book the Power of Myth -- with an examination of the ancient myths from the Christian Bible and Greek and Latin literature, but is quick to point out the relevance of such myths today (Campbell, 1-2). Throughout his book, Campbell points out countless modern examples of mythological archetypes and the ways in which myth continues to influence our perspectives and lives.

To find a clear and striking example of a modern mythological figure, it is necessary only to examine the situations from which mythological figures tend to emerge. Human figures of mythological proportions can only be seen in events whose circumstances and impact is equally large. This is consistently shown in ancient mythological figures -- Noah in the flood and Moses in the exodus are two prime Biblical examples -- and so seems a reasonable method of determining a modern mythological figure. The question simply becomes one of finding a situation whose depth is suitable for the emergence of an inspired personality.

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Noah and Moses were both figures of rescue from desperate situations. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the most desperate long-term situations were those of extreme poverty in many developing countries. The slums of Calcutta in India typified the extreme poverty that existed in much of the world, even in urban settings. Out of this desperate situation -- or rather into it -- stepped the figure of Mother Theresa, who embodies the archetype of the compassionate maternal force.

Research Proposal on Female Archetype Mother Teresa and Goddess Kali Assignment

The concept of such a maternal force is arguably older than the recorded mythologies we have today, all of which were complied in their present forms during the patriarchies that have typified almost all of human history (Bierlein, 271-3). An examination of virtually any culture will reveal some sort of goddess or other maternal figure who is a wellspring of healing, compassion, and general goodwill. For anyone growing up in the latter portion of the twentieth century, Mother Theresa took on this mythic status. She quickly came to be an international symbol of caring, compassion, charity, and sacrifice of the self for the good of others.

Mother Theresa began her career as a nun by training with a convent in Dublin, and then began teaching at a high school in Calcutta (Abrams, par. 1). Noticing the extreme poverty that was occurring outside her school windows, she requested and was granted permission to leave the school and begin work -- without funding -- with the poorest of the poor (Abrams, par. 1). One of her first acts was to create an open-air school for the children of the Calcutta slums (Abrams, par. 2). This focus on children provides one of the main mythological archetypal aspects of what Mother Theresa has come to stand for in the public consciousness.

Because her name and title are both so well-known, it is easy to overlook the Mother" that is a part of "Mother Theresa." True, this title is mostly a sign of her Catholic affiliation, but it also represents her role in the world and in the public mindset. She was known as someone who takes care of children -- someone who cared for everyone as though they were her own children, in fact. This makes her similar to certain aspects of the goddess figure that Campbell details, and the maternal archetype that Graves noticed in many ancient myths, and in cultures throughout human history, including modern times (Campbell, 207-8; Bierlein, 274).

The maternal quality that that Mother Theresa exuded and for which she is remembered was not the only aspect of her personality that helped her to achieve her mythic status. The other traits she exhibited, such as compassion and acceptance of suffering, have also been traditionally identified with the feminine, and often seen as "weaker" traits (Bierlein, 272). When she first began her work in the Calcutta slums, Mother Theresa had no funds and no way of knowing how her work would be supported (Abrams, par. 2). The fortitude with which she faced this situation is part of what granted her the mythic status that she achieved.

According to Bierlein, Robert Graves sees much of mythological history as representing the struggle between the prehistoric matriarchies that he believed to exist in pre-classical times and the patriarchies that took over for most of recorded history (Bierlein, 272-4). Mother Theresa can also be seen in this light. The Catholic Church is a highly patriarchal organization. Most governments, including India's at the time that Mother Theresa began her work, also run on patriarchal models. The role of the feminine in most mythologies is not a continuation of struggle against male dominance, but rather a quiet acceptance and female industriousness despite this subjugation (Bierlein, 272-4). Mother Theresa largely came to symbolize a continuation of this industriousness despite official respect and recognition of her work.

She eventually received such recognition and funding, of course, with no less illustrious an honor than the Nobel Peace Prize. But the lack of reasonable expectation for such rewards makes her forbearance stand out. She has become a symbol not only of compassion, but also of fortitude.

Mother Theresa is also a great symbol of sacrifice. Though born to Albanian parents in Macedonia and by no means destined to a life of material comfort, the amount she gave up to go to work in Calcutta as a nun was still staggering (Abrams, pars. 1-3). In addition, her choice to leave the relatively comfortable position she had in the high school where she was first assigned to work in even more destitute situations without any guarantee of safety or even the means of survival shows the amount of selflessness and dedication that Mother Theresa brought to her work. There is a stereotype in many films and other texts of people -- even and perhaps especially grown men -- calling for their mothers in desperate situations. There can be little doubt that this stereotype grows out of the mythological archetype of the maternal figure and the willingness of such a figure to sacrifice themselves in order to save another. Mother Theresa's identity as the modern representative of this archetype is built largely on her own similar willingness and even desire to sacrifice her means of comfort and survival for the sake of others. This ties directly into her compassion and other maternal qualities, as well.

Through here extreme displays of compassion, maternal caring, and sacrifice, Mother Theresa elevated herself to mythic status even before she die. She became synonymous with acts of charity and kindness, and even years after her passing the mention of her name conjures up the image of a saint-like figure of pure benevolence. More than any other woman of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Mother Theresa typifies the archetype of the Mother Goddess.

One very modern myth that has sprung up surrounding the maternal instinct is the supposed pregnancy pact said to have been made by seventeen young girls at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts. There were, in fact, seventeen female students at this high school between the ages of fifteen and seventeen that were pregnant, though the idea that they had formed a pact to all get pregnant was eventually proven to be a false notion (Kennedy). Still, the desire that many of these girls expressed and general attitudes towards motherhood and the maternal figure in this country contributed to make this rash of teen pregnancies into a modern legend.

Motherhood and being a wife are often seen as related things, and both are heavily idealized roles for women. According to Campbell, marriage has a heavily mythological basis, representing the hub or unmoving center of the wheel of fortune (Campbell, 147). The desire to attain this maternal status could have been a major contributing factor in some of the girls' decisions to get pregnant (Kennedy, par. 5). The mythological reverence of the maternal would have had a large part in influencing both the girls' attitudes and the development of this rather unremarkable circumstance into a prominent (though rapidly fading) myth.

There are, of course, many differences between this situation and Mother Theresa's embodiment of the mythological ideals of the maternal. One major ironic difference is that Mother Theresa never had a biological child of her own, whereas these girls had theirs at a time that society deemed was inappropriate. Thus, the real mothers lived up to the ideal of the maternal less than Mother Theresa. The mythology that surrounds both the girls of Gloucester High and Mother Theresa, however, grows from the same reverence of the maternal that has existed in mythology since they were first recorded (Campbell, 211; Bierlein, 272-4).

There are many models of this maternal archetype in different mythologies. Perhaps the most famous in Western culture is the Virgin Mary, who herself has many different modern incarnations (such as the Virgin of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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