Resilient Mothers of the Twentieth Century     

        Few aspects of humanity have remained consistent throughout time.  However, one human quality that clearly transcends the barriers of culture and time is the central foundation of civilization: motherhood.  Motherhood is a role that tries the patience and strength of a woman.  Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana both displayed their maternal attributes of patience and strength under the continual pressure and adversity that they faced through their lives.  While both these women faced great opposition and strain throughout their lives, each displayed her maternal accomplishments and downfalls in her own individual way through attempts to survive the pressures laid upon her.  The maternal image of these two women is displayed through many works of literature and art, in which their strength and patience as women is observed.

Jackie Kennedy and her children witness the funeral of her husband, the former president, John Kennedy.
            The great strength of character that Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana shared stemmed from the many similar events and people that produced the parallel aspects of their lives.  The similarities in the lives of Diana and Jackie inspired many to discuss these parallels through literature.  Jay Mulvaney wrote Diana and Jackie: maidens, mothers, myths, to emphasize the surprisingly similar lives that Jackie and Diana led, even though they were separated by nationality and a generation of time. Mulvaney examines the lives of Jackie and Diana through a detailed comparison. As seen in this book both Jackie and Diana went through the divorce of the parents during their childhood, wed ambitious and adulterous men twelve years their senior, married into powerfully domineering families which tried to tame their independence, inherited power through marriage, rebelled within their official roles and became maternal figures to their countries.  Mulvaney particularly discusses how Jackie faced these pressures when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  Yet, through it all, “Jackie taught us how to behave in the face of calamity” (Mulvaney).  Diana was faced with many of the same pressures as Jackie but she “could approach a crisis with a sense of calm dignity and steely will” (Mulvaney).  Throughout this book Mulvaney compares the pressures these women faced and therefore draws the connection between the similar strength Diana and Jackie displayed to all those around them. Their strength is presented as a maternal quality bestowed on their children and their public.
         The similar strength and patience that Jackie and Diana displayed through the pressures of their lives in and out of the media is connected to their maternity.  Mulvaney connects the patience and strength they displayed as mothers, to tolerance they displayed as they faced the pressures of society.  The trials she faced in her life with the royal family and their strict traditions led Diana to use her strength to break free from tradition when raising her sons.  She felt that her boys should “experience life on both sides of the gilded palace railing” (Mulvaney). Mulvaney shows how Diana’s strength and patience when dealing with the royal family was later expressed when raising her children.  These characteristics and her ability to perceive what was best for her children won her respect and adoration from the public as a great maternal figure, which Mulvaney shows throughout this book.  Jackie similarly used the strength and patience she gained throughout the trials in her life when raising her children.  She greatly feared their exposure to the media and used her strength to protect them from the public eye: “Jackie’s main objective became to protect her children as fiercely as she could.” (Mulvaney)  Throughout this book Mulvaney shows how the parallel strength and patience these two women displayed as mothers stemmed from the analogous pressures in which they rose to the challenge of being two of the most famous women of the twentieth century. Jackie and Diana surpassed many challenges and displayed endurance through the parallel pressures in their lives, which caused the public to view them as patient and strong, two traditionally maternal attributes.
Princess Diana and her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry

            Although they faced parallel trials and reacted to these trials with the same strength and patience, each of these women had her own distinctive nature created by the context of their times.  Jacqueline Kennedy was a very strong and patient woman but unlike Diana, she faced all life’s adversities with a stiff upper lip, never complaining and never explaining in the face of immense public curiosity.

            Caroline Kennedy, Jackie’s daughter, selected and introduced a collection of poetry as a tribute to her mother.  In The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Caroline collected many of Jackie’s favorite poems and also some of Jackie’s own poetry. The poetry in this collection reflects the patience and strength of Jackie’s personality and more importantly the calm way in which she reacted to her own trials.

            One strong piece of poetry that caught Jackie’s eye was the poem “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes.  The poem is written by Hughes from the perspective of a mother writing to her son.  The poem was one of Jackie’s favorites and was chosen by Caroline to represent her mother’s character for many reasons:

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor
But all the time
I’se been a—climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Jacqueline Kennedy demonstrated her great strength as she stood with poise when Lyndon B. John took the presidential oath of office shortly after the assassination of former President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963
             This poem is very clearly a representation of Jackie’s character and strife. The strife this African-American woman is expressing to her son is based on her struggle with poverty.  Jackie’s strife is based more around the social pressures of her life and the assassination of her husband.  The strife of these two women may be different on the surface but the general feeling of sorrow and misfortune is shared between them both Jackie and the African-American mother.  However, more importantly, they way in which they handle the hardships in their lives are very analogous.  Jackie and the African-American woman both demonstrate that they are courageous and have great endurance to handle the hardships of life. The language throughout the poem is callous and uneven. This language can be seen as a representation of the harsh reality of Jackie’s life. In the first two lines we see the mother explaining to the son that her life hasn’t been a ‘crystal stair.’ In a sense this can compare to how Jackie disguised her reality and made it appear as if she lived the perfect life.  Therefore Jackie and the mother in the poem demonstrated the need to keep going in life no matter what happens.  In the next five lines Hughes describes in detail the harshness of the mother’s life. These hardships represent Jackie’s struggle against the Kennedy family, the pressures of the media, and the turmoil in her own family life.  The following five lines show how the mother, like Jackie, pulled through the hard times and made the most of what she had.  The end of the poem allows the mother to explain to her son why he should never give up.  She reiterates how she herself faced hard times but with strength and hope she’s able to keep going.  It is clear
that Caroline chose this poem to represent her mother’s strength and patience.  The mother in this poem parallels Jackie by pulling through innumerable pressures and by bestowing ideas of strength and fortitude to her child through her words but mainly through her example.

            Not only did Caroline compile a collection of poems to describe her mother but she also included some of Jackie’s own poetry.  Jackie’s poetry is a great way to read into the woman she truly was.  One of Jacqueline Kennedy’s most famous poems is “Meanwhile in
Massachusetts.”  She wrote this in October 1953.  This poem was inspired by “John Brown’s Body” by Stephen Vincent Benet:

Meanwhile in
Massachusetts Jack Kennedy dreamed

Walking the shore by the Cape Cod Sea
Of all the things he was going to be.

He breathed in the tang of the New England fall
And back in his mind he pictured it all,
The burnished
New England countryside
Names that a patriot says with pride

Concord and Lexington, Bunker Hill
Plymouth and Falmouth and Marstons Mill
Winthrop and Salem, Lowell, Revere
Quincy and Cambridge, Louisburg Square.
This was his heritage—this his share
Of dreams that a young man harks in the air.
The past reached out and tracked him now 

He would heed that touch; he didn’t know how.
Part he must serve, a part he must lead
Both were his calling, both were his need. 

Part he was of New England stock
As stubborn, close guarded as Plymouth Rock
He thought with his feet most firm on the ground
But his heart and his dreams were not earthbound
He would call new
England his place and his creed
But part he was of an alien breed
Of a breed that had laughed on Irish hills
And heard the voice in Irish rills

The life of that green land danced in his blood
Tara, Killarney, a magical flood
That surged in the depth of his too proud heart
And spiked the punch of
New England so tart
Men would call him thoughtful, sincere
They would not see through to the Last Cavalier 

He turned on the beach and looked toward his house. 

On a green lawn his whit house stands
And the wind blows the sea grass low on the sands
There his brothers and sisters have laughed and played
And thrown themselves to rest in the shade.
The lights glowed inside, soon supper would ring
And he would go home where his father was King.
But no he was here with the wind and the sea
And all the things he was going to be.
He would build empires
And he would have sons
Others would fall
Where the current runs 

He would find love
He would never find peace
For he must go seeking
The Golden Fleece 

All of the things he was going to be
All of the things in the wind and the sea

           Throughout the poem Jackie uses romantic and majestic language when describing John Kennedy.  She discusses his dreams of being a great leader.  In several lines she talks about his need to serve but also his need to lead. Further in the poem she seems to describe Jack as stubborn but also a great dreamer.  She is in awe of Jack.  The wonder she expresses about her husband’s goals and ambitions throughout the poem helps the reader to see where Jackie finds the patience and strength to deal with the Jack’s infidelities and cruelties towards her.  It seems that her love and admiration for her husband is so strong that it allows her to stand by him through all her trials with strength and patience.  It greatly illuminates her ‘stiff upper lip,’ and her ability to face all her trials in life without complaining. The poem also clearly demonstrates Jackie’s mysterious and personal way of dealing with her trials. Towards the end of the poem, Jackie states “He would never find peace…For he must go seeking…The Golden Fleece.”  This is a reference to the story of Jason and Medea, where Medea does everything for her husband only to be cheated on.  Like Medea, it seems that Jackie would do anything to give Jack ‘the Golden Fleece.’ Like Medea, she is cheated on by the man she truly loves.  This subtle mention of Jack’s infidelities demonstrates Jackie’s need to conceal her true reality, especially for the public.
Jacqueline Kennedy's husband, former President John F. Kennedy

The poetry that Caroline collected to represent her mother and Jackie’s own poetry express Jackie’s true character.  Throughout the collection many of the poems display Jackie’s strength and patience.  Her poems and the poems that voice her character also greatly show her fortitude when facing life’s troubles.  Throughout these poems and her characteristics, the great maternity of Jackie can also be seen.  Her ability to be a great mother is clearly seen through the image this collection of poetry brings the reader.  The collection shows her as compassionate, strong, patient and extremely loving towards all. Whether it is in the literature she loved or her own work, we can see Jackie’s true strength and patience being displayed as strong personal and maternal qualities.

Princess Diana faced many trials in her life that were very similar to the pressures that Jackie Kennedy went through. Even though Jackie and Diana endured similar circumstances during their marriages, Diana used many distinctive ways to deal with her troubles.  When facing personal difficulties in marriage, instead of reacting with a ‘stiff upper lip,’ Diana reacted with a ‘quivering lower lip.’ She revealed the drama in her life to the public and took on the role as the victim.  Also in her times of trouble she found solace in helping others.  Diana’s spirit inspired many to depict her character through literature and artwork.

One of the most famous tributes to Diana through literature is found in Elton John’s song lyrics for “Candle in the Wind.”  The lyrics for Diana originated from the lyrics in a song tribute for Marilyn Monroe written by Elton John years before.  By comparing the two songs, the changes that Elton John made to fit the image of Princess Diana truly stand out.  These changes describe the Princess as Elton John and most of the world viewed her. Here are the lyrics from the two songs, for purposes of comparison:

Goodbye Norma Jean
Though I never knew you at all
You had the grace to hold yourself
While those around you crawled
They crawled out of the woodwork
And they whispered into your brain
They set you on the treadmill
And they made you change your name 

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never knowing who to cling to
When the rain set in
And I would have like to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did 

Loneliness was tough
The toughest role you ever played
Hollywood created a superstar
And pain was the price you paid
Even when you died
Oh the press still hounded you
All the papers had to say
Was that Marilyn was found in the nude 

Goodbye Norma Jean
From the young man in the 22nd row
Who sees you as something as more than sexual
More than just our Marilyn Monroe

Goodbye England’s rose,
May you ever grow in our hearts.
You were the grace that placed itself
Where lives were torn apart.
You called out to our country,
And you whispered to those in pain.
Now you belong to heaven,
And the stars spell out your name.

And it seems to me you lived your life
Like a candle in the wind
Never fading with the sunset
When the rain set in.
And your footsteps will always fall here,
Along England’s greenest hills;
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever will 

Loveliness we’ve lost;
These empty days without your smile.
This torch we’ll always carry
For our nation’s golden child.
And even though we try,
The truth brings us to tears;
All our words cannot express the joy
You brought us through the years 

Goodbye England’s rose,
From a country lost without your soul,
Who’ll miss the wings of your compassion,
More than you’ll ever know

Princess Diana working for the British red cross
             Through the comparison of the two songs we can see that Elton John made several changes in order to honor Princess Diana.  In the first stanza Elton John made several changes to represent Diana as a mother to those in need.  He describes her here as whispering to those in pain, the way a mother consoles a child in pain. Diana’s distinctive character is further expressed in the second stanza where Elton John describes Diana’s great strength and will power.  He discusses how she doesn’t fade with the sunset.  Throughout the third stanza Diana’s great character is praised the way a child might praise a lost mother.  Her joy and her smile are discussed as being greatly missed. This shows that she was admired and respected by all.  Elton John sums up his depiction of Diana by mentioning a feeling of being lost without her. This greatly parallels a feeling of loss a child would have for his/her mother.  Finally Elton John talks about how Diana was compassionate. The word “compassionate” evokes a sense of maternity.  Overall the re-written lyrics from Elton John demonstrate Diana as a uniquely strong and compassionate woman.  He shows her as a maternal and gracious figure.

Diana was seen by Elton John and by many others as a strong, spirited woman.  As portrayed in the song “Candle in the Wind,” Diana is a very compassionate woman.  These personality traits and many others have also created a maternal image for Diana, along with an image of a resilient woman.

            Jacqueline Kennedy and Princess Diana are two resilient women who captured the spirit and imagination of their times.  Each of these women displayed a similar strength and patience through the parallel trials of their lives. These characteristics later assisted them as they achieved individual greatness in motherhood.  The similar strength of character and the individual spirit of both Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana have inspired many to display these women through many works of literature.  The resilience they showed in their lives, for their children, and for their countries will not soon be forgotten.

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