Wednesday, 16 February 2011



Now, having laid the groundwork for this discussion in the Previous Post, we shall now launch into a detailed discussion of several ARCHETYPES in ‘Tom Thumb’ and one or two Archetypal Themes as they surface. I shall comment in passing on the ANIMAL ARCHETYPES also.

Let us start off with THE MOTHER. First, a word or two what this ARCHETYPE represents universally. Obviously, there are Step-Mothers, Fairy Godmothers, and so on in other stories but this is not my focus here. In this discussion, we shall purely look at the characteristics, or qualities of the MOTHER, plain and simple, and how they are revealed in this tale.

Universally the true MOTHER ARCHETYPE is depicted as one who succours and gives warmth and guidance to a child. In a more abstract sense the woman represents a female power that can be called upon in time of real need. A childless woman, as at the start of our story would be someone whose power had been blunted, perhaps blighted in some way. So a MOTHER ARCHETYPE would be one who is associated with FERTILITY and like a gardener would help the young shoot – her offspring –to grow.

It is no accident that the MOTHER of Tom is a ‘good-hearted’ and ‘hospitable’ wife of a ploughman. This places her firmly in the story as a PEASANT WOMAN, the wife of a man who, in his role tills the EARTH. So right at the start, this unnamed peasant woman, soon to become a MOTHER, is associated with the earth, making things GROW. Immediately, the Classic MOTHER ARCHETYPE is set up.


At the opening of our story, however, this hard-working, hospitable peasant woman has not yet come into her role as A MOTHER ARCHETYPE. In fact, until she does she is not yet fulfilled. As she explains to Merlin the Magician, ‘with tears in her eyes,’ that should she have a child ‘no bigger than her husband’s thumb’ she would become ‘the happiest creature in the world’ and completely ‘satisfied’. In a sense then the ARCHETYPAL MOTHER emerges from the unfulfilled woman, once Merlin grants the request. So, in this and other Fairy Tales the ARCHETYPAL MOTHER is often absent (Cinderella) but as time goes on she often appears either through marriage or the granting of a wish. Consequently, a young childless woman is not seen as  existing in a whole or perfect state of existence.

In this connection ‘The Bible’ mentions many ‘barren’ women and they are ALWAYS viewed as unfulfilled. In the cases I have looked at the Biblical Women also receive MIRACULOUS intervention and produce a child. So, there are ARCHETYPES in Sacred Texts as well. I will name three that you can look up: Sarai, Rachel; and Elizabeth. If you choose to examine these, also study the CHARACTER of these women.

Anyway, we must move on.

Once Tom is born, then the ARCHETYPE emerges and at this point we must take up our discussion regarding the peasant woman who BECOMES the MOTHER; how she fulfills the role. We need to ask, is she a good MOTHER an ideal ARCHETYPE or not?


At the time of Tom’s birth we observe the Fairies at the window of the cottage and his Mother ‘admiring him’ She betrays no trace here of disappointment at the miniscule size of the infant. She exudes appreciation. Tom’s Mother displays no feeling either of possessiveness, as she allows the Fairy Queen to kiss him and the Fairies to dress him:

"An oak-leaf hat he had for his crown;
      His shirt of web by spiders spun;
   With jacket wove of thistle's down;
      His trowsers were of feathers done.

   His stockings, of apple-rind they tie
   With eyelash from his mother's eye:
   His shoes were made of mouse's skin
   Tann'd with the downy hair within."

Thus far then, this is a woman with no emotional inhibitions at all. But what is she like as the story progresses?

She is certainly presented as both a hard-working woman, ‘making a batter-pudding’, and as an un-possessive person. Rather than watching Tom’s every move she is not aware that Tom slips into the pudding mixture by accident.  What we do notice in this incident is that like a true EARTH MOTHER she is aware that other forces play a part in Human Life; not always for the good. Perhaps Tom’s Mother reveals the superstition of the writer when Tom ‘kicked and struggled so much in the pot, that his mother thought that the pudding was bewitched, and, instantly pulling it out of the pot, she threw it to the door.’

If we had the space this idea of bewitchment would be so interesting to explore. Shakespeare writes about this common superstition, which was  widely held in the 16th century under the guise of Robin Goodfellow or Puck:

“And sometime lurk I in a gossip's bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab ,
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
 And on her wither'd dewlap pour the ale.”  (MSND II.i)

Here the mischievous Sprite is believed to have made the old lady spill her ale.

So, Tom’s Mother, associated with Supernatural Forces as a MOTHER ARCHETYPE would be, believes that a mischievous Sprite, Robin Goodfellow, is interfering with her pudding.

After Tom has scared the Tinker to death, Tom escapes from the pudding and trudges home to his Mother. Once more the unvarnished depiction of this MOTHER ARCHETYPE  is presented:

“His mother, who was very sorry to see her darling in such
a woeful state, put him into a tea-cup, and soon washed off the batter;
after which she kissed him, and laid him in bed.”

Nothing is too much trouble. She NEVER betrays impatience, a scolding temperament, nor manifests THE SHADOW (more on the Shadow later) in any situation.

We encounter the MOTHER ARCHETYPE fulfilling her domestic role as a peasant worker and helper of her husband. On this occasion Tom’s Mother takes him with her to milk the cow. She assesses how the weather conditions would affect a person of Tom’s size, and exhibiting her usual caring and protective attributes ‘As the wind was very high, fearing lest he should be blown away, she tied him to a thistle with a piece of fine thread.’ But despite her vigilance‘the cow took poor Tom and the thistle at one mouthful.’ However, all is not lost, Tom’s protector soon springs into action. From inside the cow, fearing for his life Tom wails:

"Mother, mother!"

"Where are you, Tommy, my dear Tommy?" said his mother.

"Here, mother," replied he, "in the red cow's mouth."


At first she is in great distress and ‘began to cry and wring her hands.’ But the cow was so startled by Tom’s bellowing that she ‘opened her mouth and let Tom drop out.’ In this crisis once more the personal qualities of Tom’s Mother come forth. She acts quickly and catches ‘him in her apron as he was falling to the ground’. Like the true MOTHER ARCHETYPE she did this to prevent injury to her beloved child. Had she not caught him, ‘ he would have been dreadfully hurt.’ Even so,  there is more, abandoning her milking she takes her child affectionately and puts ‘Tom in her bosom and ran home with him.’ She does not once question how Tom came to be in such a dangerous situation. She cares only to protect him from physical danger and mental shock, therefore, puts him ‘in her bosom’. In this state she (notice the next word) ‘RAN home’.

The tale then leaves the ARCHETYPAL MOTHER THEME for quite some time, for twelve scenes in fact. During this interim Tom has a number of experiences, which involve other Archetypes, to which I shall return shortly.

When Tom finally meets his Mother again he has been traveling for about two days to deliver ‘a huge silver-piece’ to his parents. This is a gift from the King. But look at Tom’s condition and his Mother’s reaction. He arrives home ‘almost tired to death,’ His Mother once more ‘RAN out to meet him, and CARRIED him into the house.’ His mother now emphasises her ARCHETYPAL ATTRIBUTES even more; noting her son’s partially exhausted condition she ‘ in order to recover him, placed him in a walnut shell by the '
fireside, and feasted him for three days on a hazel nut.’

 Do not miss the comment, ‘THREE DAYS’. Tom’s restoration from being ‘tired to DEATH’ and then revived seems to echo certain Biblical parallels: Jonah was in the belly of a great fish (So was Tom later) for three days and then released (Jonah 1:17); the Death and after three days the Resurrection of Jesus. (Mat 12:40)

So, the harder we look and the more carefully we examine this and other Fairy Tales the more we are led deeper and deeper into World Literature and even find parallels in Sacred Texts. 

Once the little mite recovered, his Mother UNSELFISHLY released him to return to the King’s Palace. She makes ‘a little parasol of cambric paper, and tying Tom to it,
she gave him a puff into the air with her mouth, which soon carried him to the king's palace’  Even this act shows the Mother’s concern. Why did she do this? Quite simply because ‘there had been a fall of rain, and the ground was very wet, he could not travel back to King Arthur's court. This is a caring Mother indeed.


Thinking of Tom’s return to King Arthur’s Court, I am not going to dwell too much on this but Tom’s father (ANIMUS) takes a minor, almost insignificant role in the story. For that reason it seems worth considering whether or not the two Kings, Arthur and Thunston fulfill some sort of surrogate father role. I shall return to these two Kings later, when we look at the nature of THE SHADOW ARCHETYPE.

After this episode, Tom’s Mother as the IDEAL FEMALE ARCHETYPE disappears from the story. Other Females, now come before us, namely, The Fairy Queen, King Arthur’s Queen, and the Queen of King Thunston. 

Having said that, I shall also discuss the Queens in connection with the SHADOW ARCHETYPE in a later Post.

I trust I have established that Tom’s Mother is a person WITHOUT BLEMISH, one who represents the ARCHETYPAL MOTHER in its purest form. She has been shown to exhibit the qualities of one who succours and gives warmth. She also provides guidance to her child. Like the true FEMALE ARCHETYPE she represents a female power that can be called upon in time of real need.

I think that is enough for now. I shall pick up the theme in a day or so when we examine how Tom PERSONIFIES THREE ARCHETYPES.

I do hope this theme is proving interesting and of some value. If the Posting directs you to probe other literary sources it will have served some purpose.

Until the next Posting regards

 KS (UK)

Any Comments

Picture Credits Wikimedia Commons


1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your very interesting article.

    Two aspects of your posting caught my attention and I would like to submit my personal comments on them.

    First: when Tom' mother sends him off with a puff of air from her mouth and then disappears from the story.

    This reminds me of a "rite of passage" in which the early years of our life are governed by our
    feminine/nurturing/intuitive Mother Archetype.

    Then, after reaching the appropriate age when we become responsible for taking care of ourselves, our Mother Archetype leaves our life and is replaced by the Father Archetype which is masculine, assertive, and rational.

    Second: The number Three and its association with the darkness of great fish's belly or a Tomb.

    Fish bellies, caves, and tombs are all dark places which Symbolize the feminine Womb. The number Three, when associated with the darkness of these places, Symbolizes the Three dark nights of the moon. A time when Initiation Ceremonies were conducted upon a worthy and well qualified individual/hero.

    The individual/hero enters the darkness of these Wombs in order to emerge Three days later as someone "re-born" into a higher spiritual or mental realm of existence.

    Your insights regarding Archetypes/Symbolism are very consistent with my own thoughts and feelings. Keep up your good work. I look forward to your future postings.

    Joe Panek