• unlimited access with print and download
    $ 37 00
  • read full document, no print or download, expires after 72 hours
    $ 4 99
More info
Unlimited access including download and printing, plus availability for reading and annotating in your in your Udini library.
  • Access to this article in your Udini library for 72 hours from purchase.
  • The article will not be available for download or print.
  • Upgrade to the full version of this document at a reduced price.
  • Your trial access payment is credited when purchasing the full version.
Buy
Continue searching

Plethora and void: The absent mother in fairy tales

Dissertation
Author: Renee J. Talmon
Abstract:
This dissertation explored the complexities of attachment and individuation for children who have experienced the loss of their mother or primary attachment figure during the early childhood years. As a catalyst to examine the process of attachment and individuation the construct of the absent mother, usually the deceased mother, within the genre of fairy tales, was used. If we are to view fairy tales, as a form of symbolic communication to the child in the hope that such narration will be incorporated into a developing ego, is it possible that fairy tales also served as a protective factor or a surrogate for the absent mother so often depicted in fairy tales, mirroring the cultural landscape from which they came? While times have changed, it is possible that many of these narratives in their various contemporary adaptations continue to provide for the child similar intrinsic and intra-psychic skills needed to navigate through today's trials and tribulations. Six fairy tales were chosen to investigate the richness of these narratives and their connection to attachment and ego development within the childhood experience, specifically when faced with the loss of the mother or primary attachment figure. This dissertation looked at the various ways in which fairy tales may have provided children with a surrogate mothering experience. Creating for them a holding environment from which to develop a secure attachment and gain mastery over their traumatic experiences. The clinical implications of this dissertation explored the reparative qualities, within the multiple layers of symbolic meaning, embedded within the fairy tale narrative. Fairy tales provide children a message that one can overcome the many difficulties associated with life and emerge safe and victorious. The explicit and often implicit assurance of the absent mother makes it a powerful therapeutic tool of exploration, especially when related to a disruption in the attachment process. The loss of a child's primary attachment figure or figures is still a prevalent reality; one only needs to think about the casualties of September 11 th , the number of children placed in foster care due to drugs, abuse, and neglect, or the physically present but emotionally dead mother. The thematic interpretations of the six fairy tales presented in this dissertation explored the rich clinical data embedded within each text. Applicable to therapeutic work with children and adults, this process provides as a means to understand the gestalt of a patient's narrative, his or her attachment system, and defensive structure. This process can also provide significant insight related to the internalized capacity of the absent mother within a patient's reality as well as within the therapeutic relationship.

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES Table of Contents page Dedication iv Acknowledgments v I: Introduction and Overview 1 History and Purpose of Fairy Tales 1 II: Review of the Literature 6 Attachment Theory 6 The Transitional Object 16 Loss and Bereavement in Childhood 21 Child Development From an Eriksonian Perspective 24 HI: Methodology of the Study 35 Introduction 35 Selection of the Fairy Tales 35 Procedure 36 Measures 37 Data Analysis 38 IV: Presentation of the Results 40 Thematic Patterns by Fairy Tale 40 Cinderella 40 The Goose Girl 46 vi

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES The Girl Without Hands 50 The Juniper Tree 57 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone 66 Finding Nemo 69 Synthesized Thematic Patterns Across Fairy Tales 74 The Absent Mother 75 The Nature of Anxieties and Child Development 76 Defense Mechanisms 76 The Ego Integration of the Child 77 V: Discussion 78 Thematic Patterns 79 Clinical Implications 80 Areas for Future Research 81 V: Concluding Remarks 83 References 84 Appendix: The Fairy Tale Questionnaire 92 vu

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 1 Chapter One Introduction and Overview Why does the sky turn grey ev'ry night? Sun rise again in time? Why do you think of the first love you had? Some things just stick in your mind. Why does the rain fall down on the earth? Why do the clouds keep cry in'? Why do you sleep curled up like a child? Some things just stick in your mind. Why when the children grow up and leave, still remember their nursery rhymes? Why must there be so much hate in their lives? Some things just stick in their minds. (Jagger & Richards, 1964) History and Purpose of Fairy Tales The cultural historian, Robert Darnton (1984), considered fairy tales as historical documents portraying life and the human condition in the early modern era. The fairy tale often depicted a world of stepmothers and orphans, a world of toil and brutal emotions, a world of worries, hopes, and fears, a world where it was not uncommon for mothers to die in childbirth. The replacement of the biological mother with the wicked stepmother is a well know motif in many classic fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel (Grimm & Grimm, 1974), Cinderella (Grimm & Grimm, 1974), and Snow White (Grimm & Grimm, 1974), to name only a few. Contemporary variations on this theme of the absent mother can also be seen in such films and stories as Fly Away Home (Baum, Veitch, & Ballard, 1996), Finding Nemo (Stanton, Unkrick, & Pixar Animation Studios, 2003), Star Wars (Lucas & Kurtz, 1997 - 2005), The Series of Unfortunate Events (Snicket, 1999 - 2006), James and the Giant Peach (Dahl, 1961), and the seven fantasy novels of Harry Potter (Rowling, 1997 - 2007). These narratives share several commonalities; the loss of one's primary attachment figure or figures, the child protagonist's triumph against insurmountable odds, and a happy ending to what began as an early childhood trauma.

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 2 Fairy tales have been woven into our cultural fabric for centuries with many of these tales known either in their more original version or through various contemporary literary or film adaptations. The earliest written accounts of these verbal stories made and told for adults can be traced to their transcriptions beginning around the 15* century. Fairy tales in their purely oral form date back even further. These stories migrated into the child's nursery and repertoire of imagination beginning in the late 17th Century when Charles Perrault in France and the Brothers Grimm in Germany began collecting and transcribing these stories for the younger audience (Shavit, 1986). It was during this time period that the notion of childhood also began to change from children being viewed as tiny adults to children as ".. .delicate creatures who had to be reformed and safeguarded..." (Shavit, 1986, p. 5). In the realm of the nursery, many fairy tales developed a moral backbone creating an educational manual for children. The assertion of values directed to the child via the fairy tales continued to evolve and be influenced by current cultural circumstances and an ever-evolving notion of childhood. Schwartz (1956) noted that the fairy tale portrayed a fantastical world where accepted cultural values are transmitted to the child in disguised form. With that in mind, fairy tales, in some respect, can be seen as a symbolic window into the social, economic, and personal tribulations affecting the child and the human condition at large. Equally the fairy tale can be conceptualized as the accumulation of countless imaginations over centuries from narrator to narrator changing and adapting to reflect the state of humanity from an intra psychic, intra-personal and relational point of view. It can be hypothesized that while fairy tales offered a glimpse into the emotional world of the child, they also offered solutions via the narrative format to such experienced stressors; solutions that pulled for

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 3 and reinforced one's inner capacities and strengths. Whether by conscious attempt or unconscious defense, fairy tales may have served and continue to serve as a protective factor instilling a sense of hope in the reader, listener, and viewer. As often demonstrated, a common fairy tale theme tells of the child's struggles and triumphs frequently against all odds. Upon further examination of several fairy tales there also exists a protective mother or mothering presence in lieu of the child's often depicted absent mother who comforts and aids the child through his or her struggles. This surrogate mother is sometimes depicted as an inanimate entity such as the tree that embodied the presence of Cinderella's mother in the Grimm's version of Cinderella, as a secondary attachment figure/figures as in Finding Nemo, or as something for the child to mother as in Fly Away Home. In all these instances the felt security of the absent mother allowed the child to come to terms with their agonizing experiences. For the reader and viewer of the fairy tale, the child is confronted, like the child protagonist, with unavoidable life circumstances. The absent mother, in her multitude of symbolic forms, guides the child through the struggle. In many fairy tales, the image of the mother often appears as the absent, deceased mother, or the cruel and neglectful stepmother. There are however, fairy tales that offer narratives depicting loving and protective mother-child relationship such as in Little Red Ridding Hood. Interestingly, these narratives often depict a scenario wherein the child, separated from his or her mother while on a journey, encounters some type of impending doom, such as the vicious wolf in Little Red Ridding Hood. The mother's wisdom, passed onto her child, aids the child to overcome, outwit, and prevail.

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 4 In The Dead Mother, Andre Green (Green in Kohon, 1999) describes the mother that is psychically dead to the child as opposed to the deceased mother. It is this void of maternal relatedness or loss and rejection as experienced by the child that impacts the child's ego development. As is often depicted in fairy tales stepchildren were often maltreated and seen as burden, dispensable. Understanding the significance and necessity of a secure attachment to child development, it is quite possible the fairy tale with its often-depicted surrogate mother and happy endings offered hope, resiliency, and a sense of attachment for a child faced with such a psychic void. Within psychoanalytic thinking, D.W. Winnicott (Phillips, 1988) explored the nature and importance of the transitional object to the child as a means of negotiating developmental stages. Winnicott was interested in how the role of culture and its language of symbols and symbolic activities aided the child to discover and to understand him or herself. It is possible that fairy tales, as a cultural medium, did and continue to occupy such a domain within the developmental schema of the child. Many historical narratives are visible today in the realm of both children's literature and film. Fairy tales, with their cultural elasticity, have thrived and adapted over the years, reflecting the importance and potential these narratives have to the developing child. The interpretation of fairy tales has a rich history within psychoanalytic theory. In the Interpretation of Dreams (1900), Sigmund Freud made use of the symbolic nature of fairy tales in dream analysis, declaring the projective nature of the fairy tale as a symbolic representation of the child itself. Other Freudian and Jungian analysts have continued to explore the relationship between fairy tales and the unconscious (e.g., Bettelheim, 1976; Dundes, 1989; Birkhauser-Oeri, 1989; Von Franz, 1982). Schwartz (1956) stated, "There

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 5 is a parallel in structure, content, and action of a fairy tale, as it follows the development of a human being." This concept is equally echoed in Bruno Bettelheim's book The Uses of Enchantment (1976). Here, Bettelheim constructed a thorough and fascinating analysis of popular fairy tales as a way to illustrate the relationship between these stories and anxieties or conflicts within the different developmental stages of childhood. Additionally, the association between fairy tales and the child's unconscious processes can be seen in the Fairy Tale Test (FTT); (Coulacoglou, 1993, 1995, 2000, 2003), a projective personality test for children 7 to 12 years of age. The FTT draws upon psychoanalytic and ego analytic approaches and developmental theories to assess not only the child's personality pattern, but also his or her relation to others. Given the re- occurring thematic narratives of the fairy tale from its historic beginnings to its contemporary forms, I pondered the relevance and inexplicable importance of these themes to attachment and child development. This dissertation looked at the layers of symbolism representative of the absent mother within six fairy tale narratives. As noted, the narrative of the fairy tale with its child protagonist and happy endings, may have offered a parallel experience for the child creating a sense of hope and relief for him or her. With this in mind it seems quite possible that these narratives provided for the adults who created them and for the children who also heard them, a way to re-experience their hardships with a feeling of hope as they identify with the characters in multiple ways. The fairy tales presented in this dissertation depict a sense of control and mastery in the face of hardships. The fairy tales presented here equally depict the embodiment of the child's relationship with the absent mother as a source of inner strength and fortitude.

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 6 Chapter Two Review of the Literature In every nursery there are ghosts. They are the visitors from the unremembered past of the parents, the uninvited guests at the christening. Under favorable circumstances, these unfriendly and unbidden spirits are banished from the nursery and returned to their subterranean dwelling place. The baby makes his own imperative claim upon parental love and, in strict analogy with the fairy tales, the bonds of love protect the child and his parents against the intruders, the malevolent ghosts. (Fraiberg, Adelson, & Shapiro, p. 387) Attachment Theory D.W. Winnicott (Bremerton, 1985) and John Bowlby (Bremerton, 1985), both supervisees of Melanie Klein used and expanded upon her developmental framework to include and emphasize the importance of the mother's relation to her child. The developmental theories put forth by Bowlby and Winnicott, in addition to Eric Erikson, were explored in relationship to the narrative construct of the fairy tale. Attachment theory is rooted in the work developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth (Bremerton, 1985), both together and separately. Attachment research suggests that we are neurologically hardwired to attach to those who care for us and we do this by seeking out closeness to, and interaction with, these caregivers (Ainsworth et al.; 1978, Bowlby 1969; Bremerton, 1985). Bowlby identified several attachment-seeking behaviors to the process of attachment. These behaviors include wishing to be held, the social smile, and crying as a signal to and for the mother's attention. Bowlby concluded that for an infant to attain psychological stability through its attachment-seeking behaviors the infant needed to be in a close, nurturing, and reliable relationship with its mother—mutual reciprocity (Altaian et al., 2002).

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 7 Using evolution as a point of reference, the biological bases of attachment behavior are the most fundamental aspects of attachment theory. Bowlby (1958, 1969/1982) not only believed that the mother-child relationship was critical to the child across developmental periods, he also believed that this relationship, created out of a biological desire for proximity to the primary caregiver, was the result of the infant's evolutionary adaptedness for survival. The beneficial and predictable outcomes of the child's proximity to the primary caregiver included safety, food, and learning about the environment and social interactions, all of which furthered the child's likelihood for survival (Bowlby 1958, 1969/1982). It is the infant's evolutionary adaptedness to seek out their primary caregiver in times of distress that creates the framework for healthy attachment. It is this adaptedness that Bowlby referred to as the "attachment behavioral system" (1969/1982). As noted, it is the responsiveness of the mother (or the attachment figure/s) to the child's needs and distress that plays a critical role in the development of a healthy and secure attachment. The attachment behavioral system can be thought of as a behavioral system that is based on the child's innate motivations and needs, such as the child's insistence on staying close to a protective figure, as opposed to a consequence of any one fundamental drive such as food or warmth (Ainsworth, 1967; Harlow, 1962; Schaffer & Emerson, 1964). Fundamental to and an outcome of the attachment behavioral system is the development of attachment behaviors by the child in response to internal and external cues, meaning that the child may maintain a stable internal attachment behavioral system in relationship to the mother across time and situations while the specific attachment- seeking behavior used by the child may vary. It is this internal and external attachment-

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 8 seeking behavior that allows the child to respond in a flexible manner to different circumstances, all the while keeping near to the mother. Furthermore, according to Bowlby, the goal of the child is not the mother per se but rather what closeness to her represents which is a state of homeostasis, created in relationship to and with the mother. A child's first attachments are usually formed by seven months of age and are often formed to only a few persons (Main, 1996). While all infants become attached even to parents that are insensitive and maltreating, not all infants develop a healthy attachment. Bowlby (1980) noted that although the attachment behavioral system is less readily activated in older individuals, the need to monitor the availability of attachment figures and to seek them out in times of distress exists throughout the life cycle. It is possible that on some level the attachment behavioral system feeds into the appeal of these narratives to even the adult audience. Situation and context plays a significant role in the attachment behavioral system. Bowlby (1969/1982) described the attachment system as being continually activated, depending on the child's proximity to the mother. It is these increases and decreases of activation relative to different circumstances that Bowlby used to conceptualize two factors that contribute to the activation of the attachment system, both of which signify danger or distress to the child. The first is related to physical feelings the child has such as hunger, pain, fatigue, and illness. The second is associated to conditions of the environment such as a threatening or frightening situation. In both scenarios, the proximity and behavior of the mother are critical. In other words, when the child's attachment system is activated out of hunger or fear for instance, he or she looks to the mother as a safe haven to return to in times of trouble. If the mother responds

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 9 appropriately to the child's anxiety, fear can be put to rest, creating a state of homeostasis for the child. The child's image of the mother as a safe haven is hence constructed and confirmed as true, trusted, and predictable. As seen in the fairy tales presented in this dissertation the mothering image becomes a safe haven for the child in times of trouble and despair. The attachment behavioral system, in relation to the fear and exploratory behavioral systems offers further insight and understanding to the attachment behaviors of young children. Bowlby (1969/1982, 1988) believed that the activation of both the fear and exploratory behavioral systems trigger the attachment behavioral system for the child. The relationship between the exploratory behavioral system and the attachment behavioral system creates a complementary equilibrium to ensure the child's protection via his or her proximity to the mother while he or she learns about the environment through exploration. As Ainsworth (1972), noted, "the dynamic equilibrium between these two behavioral systems is even more significant for development (and survival) than either in isolation" (p. 118). By means of this "dynamic equilibrium" the child uses the mother as a secure base from which to explore (Ainsworth, 1963; Ainsworth et al., 1978; Bowlby, 1969/1982, 1988). Is it possible that fairy tales enabled the child to obtain this secure base via its narrative structure? Given the happy endings and defeating against all odds storyline, do fairy tales act as a surrogate for the absent (deceased) mother, possibly fulfilling the role of attachment figure? Consequently, do children seek out these stories time and again, across generations, because of their connectedness to the attachment qualities depicted within the narratives? Likewise did adults for similar reasons initially create and re-tell these narratives? As can be seen with contemporary

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 10 fairy tales, they continue to explore many of the narrative elements present from the oral tradition. These questions begin to conceptualize the intergenerational appeal and longevity of fairy tales as well as the complexity of learned or intergenerational attachment behaviors. Fear, like that of the exploratory behavioral system, is essential to the overall attachment system. Simply put, it is biologically adaptive for children to be frightened in certain situations. In such situations the presence of or absence of the attachment figure plays a critical role in the activation of the child's fear behavioral system. An attentive and available attachment figure greatly reduces the child's level of fear while the absence, physical or emotional, of the attachment figure greatly increases the child's fear, anxiety, and distress (Morgan & Ricciutu; 1969; Sorce & Emde, 1981). As seen in many fairy tales, fear and danger is often a significant and central aspect of its narrative structure. Interestingly, the storyline of many fairy tales mimic aspects of the attachment behavioral system as conceptualized by Bowlby and other attachment theorists. When fairy tales migrated from the adult world to the child's, the overtly provocative aspects were largely removed leaving in the often graphic and gruesome details in order to elicit fear. In some of Bowlby's earliest writings (1956) he touched on the mother's relationship to her infant as a means to further understand the attachment relationship. He appeared to revisit this idea when he later addressed the concept of parenting behavior (Bowlby, 1984). From a biological perspective, Bowlby wrote about the predisposition of the parenting behavior to care for and protect the child. Additionally, Bowlby believed that individual differences in the nature of this parenting behavior are likely due to

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 11 learned behavior. The impact learned parenting behavior has on attachment is poignantly illustrated in the seminal text Ghosts in the Nursery: A Psychoanalytic Approach to the Problems of Impaired Infant-Mother Relationships (Fraiberg, Adelson, & Shapiro, 1975). The authors discuss how the ghosts or the learned parenting of the parental past, interferes with the attachment bond between mother and child. The authors hypothesize that unprocessed childhood pain leads to the perpetuation of these painful affective experiences, which impair infant-mother relationships. Fraiberg, Adelson, & Shapiro (1975) believed that by attending to the parent's unprocessed childhood anxiety and suffering, the parent was able to re-experience his or her past conflicts, becoming protectors of their children as opposed to repeating their own experienced damaged parenting. A process focused on reparative attachment. While Bowlby did not write extensively about parenting behavior, his ideas of the interrelated nature of the attachment behavioral systems and the attachment process across one's lifespan created further research avenues into what Bowlby (1969/1982) referred to as the parental side of the "attachment-caregiving social bond." Fortunately, Solomon and George (1996) (George & Solomon, 1996; George & Solomon, 1999) expanded on Bowlby's writing to define the caregiving system as a subset of parental behaviors associated with creating safety via proximity and comfort when the parent perceives the child to be in real or potential danger. Behaviors such as calling to, reaching for, soothing, and rocking the child are such examples. As Bowlby noted, the parental caregiving system can be seen as yet another facet of the attachment behavioral system to ensure safety and survival of the child. As with the child's attachment behavioral system, the main goal of the caregiving system is proximity. The two systems work in tandem in

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 12 that when the caregiving system is activated the child's attachment system is deactivated and vice versa (Bowlby, 1969/1982). Fairy tales may have acted in a similar manner, creating surrogate caregiving behaviors via the narrative. It is also possible that fairy tales may have fulfilled and occupied this domain, out of an evolved necessity, when the parental caregiving systems were compromised with the loss of and replacement of the mother with the dangers of an evil stepmother. Bowlby (1969/1982) also addressed the concept of multiple attachments within the child's attachment system. Bowlby identified three main ideas about multiple attachments in infancy. First, Bowlby (1969/1982) believed many children have more than one individual with whom they direct attachment behavior toward. He also observed that in most cultures, these multiple attachments figures include the biological parents as well as siblings and extended family members. Secondly, Bowlby (1969/1982) noted that although there is usually more than one attachment figure in the child's life, the potential number of attachment figures remain contained. As Bremerton (1980, p. 195) stated, most children develop a "small hierarchy of major caregivers". Lastly, while multiple attachment figures can develop, a child does not treat all attachment figures alike. Bowlby believed that children tend to prefer and seek out a sole attachment figure for comfort and security, a behavior he referred to as monotropy (Cassidy 1999; see also Ainsworth, 1964, 1982b). The concept of monotropy is especially important when discussing the loss of a child's primary attachment figure. To date, there have been relatively few experimental studies looking at attachment hierarchies within a child's multiple attachment system. Colin (1996) outlined a set of contributing factors likely related to the development of an infant's attachment hierarchy.

Running head: THE ABSENT MOTHER IN FAIRY TALES 13 These factors included the amount of time the child spends in the care of the attachment figure, the quality of care provided, the level of emotional investment the attachment figure has in the child, and social cues (p. 194). To this Cassidy (1999) added that the repeated presence over time, even if only brief, is likely to be meaningful in the development of the child's attachment hierarchy. While children form multiple attachments, a question in the attachment literature is how do these multiple attachments influence a child's functioning. It is believed that the main or principle attachment figure, while often the mother not always, is the most influential. It is also thought that while one attachment figure is more influential in some areas, another attachment figure is influential in others (van Ijzendoon & Sagi, 1999). The research suggests that when a child is securely attached to one and insecurely attached to another, the child behaves better when the secure relationship is with the mother as opposed to another attachment figure (Easterbrooks & Goldber, 1987; Howes et al., 1988; Main et al., 1985; Main & Weston, 1981). These studies also suggested that the most well-functioning children have at least two secure attachment relationships while the least competent children have none, and multiple secure attachments enhance a children's emotional, social, and cognitive functioning (van Ijzendoon & Sagi, 1999). As noted, the research of Bowlby and Ainsworth (both together and separately) created the cornerstone and building blocks of attachment theory. While the work of John Bowlby can be thought of as initiating the initial phase of attachment theory, the work of Mary Ainsworth can be thought of as beginning the second phase of attachment research (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Bremerton, 1992). Ainsworth and her colleagues studied how normal and pathogenic attachment behavioral patterns develop and differ. These

Full document contains 103 pages
Abstract: This dissertation explored the complexities of attachment and individuation for children who have experienced the loss of their mother or primary attachment figure during the early childhood years. As a catalyst to examine the process of attachment and individuation the construct of the absent mother, usually the deceased mother, within the genre of fairy tales, was used. If we are to view fairy tales, as a form of symbolic communication to the child in the hope that such narration will be incorporated into a developing ego, is it possible that fairy tales also served as a protective factor or a surrogate for the absent mother so often depicted in fairy tales, mirroring the cultural landscape from which they came? While times have changed, it is possible that many of these narratives in their various contemporary adaptations continue to provide for the child similar intrinsic and intra-psychic skills needed to navigate through today's trials and tribulations. Six fairy tales were chosen to investigate the richness of these narratives and their connection to attachment and ego development within the childhood experience, specifically when faced with the loss of the mother or primary attachment figure. This dissertation looked at the various ways in which fairy tales may have provided children with a surrogate mothering experience. Creating for them a holding environment from which to develop a secure attachment and gain mastery over their traumatic experiences. The clinical implications of this dissertation explored the reparative qualities, within the multiple layers of symbolic meaning, embedded within the fairy tale narrative. Fairy tales provide children a message that one can overcome the many difficulties associated with life and emerge safe and victorious. The explicit and often implicit assurance of the absent mother makes it a powerful therapeutic tool of exploration, especially when related to a disruption in the attachment process. The loss of a child's primary attachment figure or figures is still a prevalent reality; one only needs to think about the casualties of September 11 th , the number of children placed in foster care due to drugs, abuse, and neglect, or the physically present but emotionally dead mother. The thematic interpretations of the six fairy tales presented in this dissertation explored the rich clinical data embedded within each text. Applicable to therapeutic work with children and adults, this process provides as a means to understand the gestalt of a patient's narrative, his or her attachment system, and defensive structure. This process can also provide significant insight related to the internalized capacity of the absent mother within a patient's reality as well as within the therapeutic relationship.