Literary Parents We Need to Forgive (Or Do We?)

Posted by Rose Moore

Image by skalekar1992 from Pixabay

“They f**k you up, your mum and dad.  

They may not mean to, but they do…”

Philip Larkin’s "This Be The Verse" gets straight to the point. Parents, no matter how hard they try, are only human and mess up sometimes when it comes to raising children. But Larkin’s pithy poem isn’t just about laying blame, but understanding. Parents aren’t perfect, and Forgive Mom and Dad Day encourages kids to see the ones who raised them not just as parents, but as people.

So this March, which literary parents might deserve a little forgiveness? Are these moms and dads actually sympathetic people, struggling to do their best and failing despite good intentions? Or perhaps, have these book-based parents gone so fictionally far that there’s just no forgiveness possible?


This Is Not The Jess Show by Anna Carey

In the world of bad parents, Jess’s mom and dad are definitely up there with some pretty bad ones—and with those who definitely know what they are doing, and that what they're doing is wrong. Jess is unknowingly raised in an environment with a shocking twist. At first, her father is distant and her mother is overprotective and constantly trying to change her. Later, she realizes just how much worse it can get…



Matilda by Roald Dahl

The Wormwoods are definitely among the most hated parents in fiction, but do they truly deserve the hate? These two are clearly set up to be the villains, despite the fact that they have a daughter with a supernatural power who is using it to prank them on a regular basis, which would be pretty terrifying. They may not be intellectual, and her father is definitely dishonest (and even criminal), but they are able to recognize that she is better off with a parental figure who can love and nuture her. Perhaps their final flight and decision to leave Matilda behind can be a redemption arc for these two.



Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Maguire’s Wicked gives the Wicked Witch of the West a brilliantly complex and sympathetic backstory—but can readers sympathize with Elphaba’s parents, too? At first, it seems clear that they are well-intentioned, that Frex simply wants to do his work and help people with his preaching, and that Melena is struggling with disappointment and boredom (something most people can relate to, at least at times!). However, as time goes on, it seems that things are less and less forgivable—from the circumstances of their births to the dishonesty about both girls’ paternity, to their parents’ distance and obvious preference for Nessarose, and the reveal of Elphaba being neglected and pushed aside throughout her life, it’s hard to love these two.



Geekerella by Ashley Poston

There had to be at least one mention of an evil stepmother… even if she’s not really completely evil. In this YA take on Cinderella, Elle definitely had great parents, but after their passing, she is left with a stepmother who seems determined to make her miserable. She cuts her off from her parents’ friends and the convention they created, she tries to sell the house that Elle would inherit, she even treats her like a servant. It’s a struggle to find much redeemable about her, other than perhaps the fact that she is struggling with the loss of her husband, money worries, and three teenage daughters to content with too.



The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

In a novel all about mothers, daughters, and parenting, it’s definitely easy to see where the women of the Joy Luck Club become frustrated with their parents, but it's also easy to see that their parents can be forgiven. Of all the parents on this list, these are the easiest to sympathize with. Sure, they may not be able to give the best, most relevant advice to their daughters, but they are constantly trying to, with all the wisdom that they have.