Short Story Friday: Mother’s Day by Nephi Anderson

Switching back to something very old school this week — next week will be something by one of the AMV crowd.

Title: Mother’s Day

Author: Nephi Anderson

Publication Info: The Relief Society Magazine, January 1916

Submitted by: Theric Jepson

Why?: Theric writes — “.

This is an extra short story from Nephi Anderson at his preachiest. It gives a nice taste of Home Lit at its homelittiest. Plus, it shows that the Mother’s Day troubles we often hear of are older than you or I.”


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22 thoughts on “Short Story Friday: Mother’s Day by Nephi Anderson”

  1. “Not even a white carnation was given me.”

    There’s something about that syntax that makes it even more heartbreaking. Perhaps because it sounds old-fashioned and thus semi-scriptural to my modern ears. Or perhaps the way it begins with “not” and ends with “me.”

  2. .

    I don’t know how typical this is of Home Lit, but Anderson always has one character who gets in the doctrinal lesson.

    But although it seems a bit cheesy and forced, isn’t this what the Word is supposed to accomplish? Isn’t this why Alma called it more powerful than the sword?

  3. But Th.—does our language necessarily have to be preachy to facilitate change? Sure, Alma says “the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just,” but I don’t believe power in the word is reserved for strict didacticism. Clinton Larson suggests the same thing in this 1969 conversation with Dialogue. Here’s a snippet that seems particularly relevant here:

    I look to some of the prophets for guidance in the problem of Mormon literary art. Take, for example, the great prophet-poet Nephi, who in Second Nephi indicates his great love of books. He claims that he is a poor writer, but to my mind he is a fine symbolist poet. He used the branch of the olive tree as a viable figure of speech. He had the same vision that his father Lehi had, a vision which involved profound metaphors and the affective interpretation of metaphors. Nephi’s expression was, of course, for the benefit of Laman and Lemuel and the whole family. But Nephi repeats the metaphors again and again to convert Laman and Lemuel to the truth, which is the method of the artist. And I think it is marvelous how he ends Second Nephi. He says farewell; the spirit of the Lord tells him to speak no more — no more will he be stirred to poetic expression. In his humility, he claims that what he has spoken is not poetic, but it is, with the substantive qualities of the best literature. Nephi’s farewell is particularly poignant because his great desire to communicate spiritually through symbolic language has failed, and because of Laman’s and Lemuel’s intransigence regarding the Lord’s will. What Nephi is trying to do is to cause his brothers to flex their minds and spirits so that they can accommodate greater and greater truths.

    I think that as we look back to Joseph Smith, we see a man of tremendous capability, a great prophet and poet in every sense of the word. I am concerned that we do not lose that tradition of love of language and the great verbal ability, you see, that was invested in the early brethren of the Church. Not that this ability has been completely lost, but sometimes we adopt opinions that seem to negate its importance. [Tyler says: I especially like this last part; hence the excessive italic use.] We get doctrinaire rather than affective in our use of language. Mormons should cease sounding like medieval schoolmen, to whom religion became an abstract adjustment to religious theories; rather, we should leave most doctrinal matters to the latter-day oracles and then convey testimony and religion into the actualities of art and life. (74-5; italics mine)

    I’ll leave it there in hope that Brother Larson’s words might spur some further discussion.

  4. That’s some pretty heavy stuff for a Friday, Tyler. Not a criticism, but by way of excusing myself from an immediate reply. I can’t quite process all that at the moment.

  5. So. Thoughts…

    The setup situation was very nicely poignant. This is a problem that is still very much with us. I have relatives who don’t like to attend church on Mother’s Day for similar reasons.

    I think part of what rubs us the wrong way about this story–or at least part of what rubs me the wrong way–is that nowadays we think of it as offensive for the man to necessarily be the teacher of the woman. There’s part of this interaction that seems more like a parent-child relationship than a husband-wife relationship–at least, as we like to think of it nowadays. Changing ideas about marriage.

    And then it got me to thinking about my own novel.

    Because I do exactly the same thing we see in this story. I have my main character in a situation where he doesn’t see how he can fulfill the scriptural injunctions, and feels less value attached to himself as a result–largely through the church whose teachings he believes in. And he goes to other people and to the scriptures to try to figure out how to reconcile those things.

    Hopefully, what I do is a little less heavy-handed than what’s here. But still, I’m showing a character looking for answers within Mormon scripture, and to some extent finding them. That’s didactic, but also realistic, for a character to whom his/her religion is important. And yeah, part of my purpose is to show some possible answers for those who might be in a similar situation–as well as hopefully making the rest of us a little more sensitive about such matters.

    And so I feel a certain kinship with poor Nephi Anderson–especially since the first part of the story does seem to show that he can set up a realistic scene and a real dramatic conflict, even if the later part of the story became a vehicle for scriptural exegesis. He’s giving it a good try, and he’s not really unskilled at it. In Larson’s terms: yeah, the metaphorical approach may be more subtle–but sometimes wrestling with the scriptures and trying to find doctrinal answers in them is what our characters *do*. And what we do as well. I don’t think it’s bad to show that part, too.

  6. .

    Well, things are usually his fault.

    Crap. Found out. Time to find new blog.


    If it makes you feel better, Jonathan, in Added Upon it is Signe who teaches Rupert the gospel. (Although, as was pointed out to me last Saturday by an irritated female friend, by the end she sends the interested to Rupert because he is sooo much better at explaining things.)

    That said, yes, it’s a problem here. But I suppose given the setup, this time it’s his turn to be the strong one in the relationship.

    The Larson quotation forces me to think about Nephi from a new perspective, which, let’s face it, I need.

    And please don’t anyone dismiss Anderson from this writing which is, as Jonathon says, “not really unskilled” because he gets better. Please read Dorian (available for free online!). It’s quite good (and there’s a publication opportunity coming up, if you have an essay in you).

    I love Anderson in part for his didacticism. I don’t do it myself (and generally find it uberirritating–excuse enough to hate an author, in fact), but his sincerity and good will make me happy.

    And, as I said, he gets better.

  7. “The Larson quotation forces me to think about Nephi from a new perspective, which, let’s face it, I need.”

    As do I Th. As do I.

    * * * *

    As for Anderson’s story, I enjoyed the quick read, though I felt kind of let down when he got so doctrinaire (one of my new favorite words, thanks to Brother Larson). And that he slipped so easily into preaching seems typical of many Mormon stories.

    Not that I don’t appreciate the things he teaches here—the eternal nature of man and woman, our potential to partake of eternal lives is one of the most transcendent LDS doctrines, the one I return to most often in my theological meditations. It’s just that I don’t really read fiction to be taught in this way. I come to a short story or a novel to gain some experience, not to be sermonized at.

    Of course, I also appreciate the writer who can deal with explicitly LDS doctrines in less didactic ways. I think, for example, of Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth where she takes very Mormon situations and tweaks the experience or the characters’ response just enough to shed new light on the moment and the culture whereas in less capable hands, such situations might turn out very preachy and far less appealing to me.

    Maybe I need to read more of Anderson to see how much better he gets. But in this story, he didn’t do much for me.

  8. .

    It’s just that I don’t really read fiction to be taught in this way. I come to a short story or a novel to gain some experience, not to be sermonized at.

    Me too, me too.

    think, for example, of Angela Hallstrom’s Bound on Earth….

    On my nightstand, awaiting my eyes.

    Maybe I need to read more of Anderson to see how much better he gets.

    Read Dorian. (How much more explicit can I get?)

  9. And read me! Me too! My novel! So you can, uh, tell me how I didn’t get it right! Yeah…

    (I’m actually planning to make my MS available to anyone who wants to read and comment on it, pre-publication. Watch out for an announcement coming here at AMV sometime next week.)

    (End of shameless self-promotion. With apologies and downcast eyes.)

  10. .

    If you can wait till the summer, I’ll read for you. With the understanding that you’ll be on the list for my next prebook MS.

  11. (makes a note to tell Jonathan that not scooping yourself is one of the cardinal rules of pr)

  12. Jonathan, quick note on that offering manuscript before publication thing.

    Please keep in mind that if you’ve posted it online there are publishers who will have considered that to be published and won’t touch it, so I’m going to assume you just mean to send it out to whichever beta readers are interested in beta reading it?

  13. All shall be revealed… All is part of my cunning plan…

    (Falls on the floor laughing at self.)

  14. This story appeared in 1916, the year of my father’s birth, so the couple is my grandparents’ age, and I could picture them walking home from the North Morgan ward chapel, which my father wrote a lovely poem about when the Church tore it down and built a modern spread-out 1970’s structure there.

    I wonder if this story isn’t a bit subversive, or at least an exercise in consciousness-raising. I suspect Nephi Anderson’s real purpose is to remind people of what Mother’s Day feels like to women who aren’t mothers–which is why in some wards the 2nd Sundae in Mae is celebrated potential-mothers’ day–the day when Mother’s all over the country say, “Why don’t you come and see me some time?”

    This story reminds me rhetorically of Jack Weyland’s first story, “Punch and Cookies Forever,” (March 1972 New Era,, which is about the resentment a son feels for how much his father’s calling in the stake presleyduncy takes him away from his family–but Weyland probably felt that theme was too risky and he had to make it palatable so it ends up as a story about the narrator’s personal growth as he takes responsibility for his feelings.

    I suspect Anderson is similarly trying to make the wife’s expression of hurt less powerful than it could be, less threatening, by doctrine-coating it.

  15. .

    That’s an interesting argument—a sleight of hand, making us think we were intended to learn one lesson when really there was another all along. And really, doesn’t that hidden lesson work better?

  16. .

    Interesting how Weyland style’s consistent with Anderson’s. As you observe, it’s rhetorically very very close. Mostly dialogue (though, as it’s not too believers, much more flippant and choppy). A true inheritor of the tradition.

  17. .

    FTR, I’ve read a lot more of Anderson’s short fiction now thanks to Scott and I want to take back what I said about a character always getting in doctrinal lessons. And some of the other things I said as well. Anderson is much more subtle and layered at times than this story alone may suggest.

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