Maternal Instinct in Miguel De Unamuno's "Dos Madres"

By Linares, Henry A. | Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, August 2003 | Go to article overview

Maternal Instinct in Miguel De Unamuno's "Dos Madres"


Linares, Henry A., Journal of Evolutionary Psychology


The question of immortality has been one of the principal human preoccupations in the history of mankind (Olshansky; Carnes). This query has been directed in different directions to find a means to satisfy a yearning for immortality. Religion has been one of the paths on which humans have journeyed to search for answers. Based on religious faith, the discovery has been that the physical body dies but that the soul can supersede death. The discipline of science has been another path in the search for answers to this perplexing question. As a result, the unique discovery has been that the desire for immortality, supported by religious faith, clashes constantly with the logic of science, which leads to the uncomfortable position which Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936) calls "the tragic sense of life".

Throughout history, various ways have been conceived to explain the idea of immortality and the attainment of it. (Olshansky; Carnes). One of the most obvious is procreation or, in other words, the passing of the genes to the next generation. In his novelette "Dos Madres", Unamuno describes three principal characters whose actions deal with the theme of procreation and specifically with the obsession of Raquel, a sterile woman, to become a mother. Given Unamuno's preoccupation with the idea of immortality, one could easily interpret Raquel's actions and behavior as her quest for immortality, attainable by acquiring another woman's child and rearing it as her own. Ironically, Raquel ignores an important biological fact. The ultimate reality is that the genes of the parents of the child, not hers, will continue into the next generation. This fact brings about the possibility of a different interpretation of the work. It may be true that Unamuno intended for this work to be a representation of a quest for immortality on the part of Raquel, but the end-result may have been different. It is arguable that her extreme actions and behavior are more representative of an anomalous maternal instinct rather than a desire for immortality.

In very general terms, behavior can be categorized into two basic types: learned and innate or instinctive. A problem may emerge, however, on certain occasions in determining or defining which behavior is learned and which is instinctive. Nevertheless, it is evident that maternal behavior is one of the most visible and observable of behaviors and is quite strong among mammals (Loy, Peters, ed.). More specifically, if an instinctive behavior can be characterized by having certain characteristics, features or qualities such as a strong craving or desire, an affective state (unhappiness and dissatisfaction due to the lack of the object desired), and a conative impulse, that is, an activity motivated by a stimulus for the purpose of relieving the stress and achieving satisfaction (Wilm, p. 146), then it is observable that Raquel's reactions to her "biological clock" to become a mother are a result of a maternal instinct and not a desire for immortality. All of these characteristics play an influential role in her behavior, not independently, but in tandem and/or overlapping each other.

In her obsession to become a mother, she devises, in a very calculated manner, a fiendish plan to satisfy her biological hunger for a child. Her fierce craving becomes evident when the first demand is that Juan, her cohabitating partner, marry another woman, have a child with her, and then turn it over to Raquel as her own. Juan rejects the demand, claiming that he could never love any woman other than Raquel. She informs him that her demand does not require him to be in love with anyone, only that he impregnate another woman so that she can gain possession of the child.

Juan refutes her with the suggestion of adoption, which would appear to be the best practical solution to Raquel's problem. She rejects the suggestion on the basis that a child from unknown sources could turn out to be inferior. …

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