Parental Desperation

Just to preface this, I did read the end of the book.

Throughout my reading of A Head Full of Ghosts I kept trying to decide if the parents were truly invested in Majorie’s well being or if all this was just a front to save a failing family. From the beginning of Mary’s problems her mother and father play rather withdrawn and emotionally fragile roles. They never seem to send her to any kind of practical medical practitioner nor do they seem to operate in a way that put her needs first.

The father’s unconvincingly quick transition back into Catholicism can be chalked up to fear or to his will to make the television show work. Either way his connection to the faith seems flimsy at best. Even Mary can detect the lackluster-ness of his prayers and actions. During the exorcism he puts the pain of his daughter second to the words of men that he pretends to know. Even with his connection, or lack there of, to Christianity aside Mary’s father is a very complicated man. We learn a lot about his possible motivations in chapter 25 when Majorie has Mary read some more stories. These stories are all about the “breadwinners” of the household and how the loss of that status drove them mad in some way. I believe many of us have assumed that Mary’s father’s motivation to invite the camera crews into his house were largely monetarily based. He even says that in one of the earlier chapters when he hails the TV show as the thing that will save the family. In reality it breaks it apart beyond repair. He is a fragile man and I do believe that his fragility likely stems from his inability to hold work and provide for his family. He then imposes this self-consciousness and weakness upon his family, namely Marjorie.

The Mother is one of the most disappointing characters in the entire book I believe. She sees all that her husband is doing wrong and even visibly shows disapproval, but never fully puts a stop to it. Unlike her husband I believe that her heart is in the right place and that her desperation comes not from a projection of self-centered beliefs, but rather from the fear of harm befalling her child. As any good parent she does not want to see Marjorie in pain and she does do what she can to be compassionate and caring. What is frustrating as a reader is that she is as complacent as she is loving. It is hard to judge her as her pain is clear and her confusion is even more so. Her husband has embraced a path which she does not agree with, as seen in many cases especially during the exorcism when she does not participate, and yet she is too afraid and confused to offer up any solutions to counter him. Her desperation combined with his desperation lead to the sad ending of the story and families’ lives.

The actions of Marjorie’s parents are that of desperation. They both want to save her, and, in the case of her father, save themselves. Her dad feels as though he has failed his family and in this book we see his final attempts to fix his shortcomings. Her mother is terrified of what is happening to Marjorie, reasonably so, but her fear drives her to accept irrational thought. In the end both parent’s desperation leads to their joint suicide and joint murder of their child. An act which I personally find unforgivable.

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