What do We Communicate to our Children?

I read two books this month aimed at vastly different audiences. One was The Secret Garden, a children’s book by Frances Hodgson Burnett published in 1911. The other was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, a book for adults written by Gail Honeyman and published in 2017.

Despite being written in different centuries and for different audiences there was one particular theme that ran through both of them. This was: neglectful parents and the effect that neglect can have on what children believe about themselves.

The main characters in The Secret Garden, Mary Lennox and Colin Craven, both have distant parents. Mary’s mother is a socialite who is too busy to bother with her daughter. When Mary’s parents both die, their absence makes little sentimental difference to the already lonely, emotionally stunted girl. Her cousin, Colin, is actually physically stunted because of his father’s neglect. After Colin’s mother dies Mr Craven withdraws from his son. Craven firmly believes that Colin will become a hunchback like himself and die young. Despite having nothing biologically wrong with him Colin appropriates his father’s beliefs and subsequently lives the miserable life of an invalid.

In Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, main character Eleanor is likewise disregarded by a delinquent, powerful mother. Eleanor’s mother is in fact cruel and abusive, the full extent of which is gradually revealed as the book progresses. And into adulthood it is ‘Mummy’s’ voice in her own head that Eleanor simply can’t shake. A voice that constantly tells Eleanor she’s a bad, insipid, useless individual who will never amount to anything. Like Mary and Colin, Eleanor takes on board her parent’s beliefs about herself. And she becomes a friendless, tactless, emotionally immature person.

Happily, there is a positive resolution for all three characters. In each case it is the ministrations of friendship that launches a change. Much else could be said of both books and their tropes and themes. But having read them alongside each other this theme of parental influence on self-belief (or unbelief) is what stood out for me. The books are a sobering example of how parental treatment of, and communication with, our children can have such a powerful and material influence on who they become.

By Brenda Daniels

Arrival: A Delicately Told Story

Arrival’s blurb says this film is about “A linguist (Amy Adams) who is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications”. Okay, so just another take on aliens invading Earth, right? Wrong. Man’s interaction with the aliens is simply the vehicle to a much deeper story in this film. It’s a story about human love and suffering and knowing the future. Would we still choose a future we knew contained both love and suffering, is the question this beautiful, multi-layered movie poses.


Amy Adams in Arrival. Picture supplied by Ster Kinekor.

Amy Adams plays Dr Louise Banks who is hastily picked up by helicopter from outside her home and taken to the site of an alien arrival. On the way she meets the rest of the team. Among them is scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who brings his mathematical skills to the project. Banks is deployed as a linguist and together the pair meets face to face with the aliens. Named heptapods (they look like giant ten-legged spiders) by the specialists, the aliens communicate by squirting ink into strange patterns. Banks and Donnelly slowly begin to work out the aliens’ language and, in a race against other nations who are only too keen to obliterate the invaders, they eventually uncover the aliens’ reasons for coming to Earth.

As Banks participates in the work she has regular “visions” which tell us, the viewers, about her personal life. She lives alone and has endured the unimaginable suffering of losing a child. Somehow the visions and the alien interaction begin to merge revealing issues that relate to time travel and even quantum physics.

Arrival is a film with depth and it tells its story with delicacy and a melodic beauty. I highly recommend it.

Arrival opens at Ster Kinekor theatres in South Africa on 11 November 2016.