The Archetypal Mother of Evil: Grendel’s Mother, Cersei Lannister, and Sarah Palmer

Steven Caumo

Waynesburg University


Aside from the Virgin Mary, a common and powerful maternal trope is that of the mother of evil. Dating as far back as Lilith in creation stories, some female villainesses or morally grey women are defined in action in relation to their offspring, gaining full agency only with their death. Grendel’s Mother in Beowulf lives beneath a cave in a lake; Cersei Lannister atop the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones; and Sarah Palmer staggers a drunken daze with something evil behind her face in Twin Peaks: The Return. From natural born monster, to an already twisted mind driven further off the edge, and a lost soul consumed with pain and self-hatred, they all ultimately play the same role in their narratives: a monster that rises up and must be slain. The circumstances may change through the ages, but through vengeance, their own ambition, or supernatural forces that prey upon their grief at the loss of a child, these women lash out at the world around them, and why they do so is easily observable.

2018 National Conference
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