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Mother-daughter relationships in "Gilmore Girls"

Written by Thea Suer

Having just undergone ear surgery, I found myself recovering at home with my mum faithfully positioned at the foot of my bed, privileging my needs over her own. Cups of tea were delivered straight to my hand and yummy meals (lasagne and garlic bread obviously) served basically on silver platters- heaven!

Mother-daughter conventional relationships tend to constitute trust, protection, guidance and above all, unconditional love. Whilst relationships differ in their genre: familial, romantic, work, or amicable, they for the most part have intersecting characteristics. Given my injury, I found the relationship with my mum functioning along the vein of protection and nurture, which I have to admit, despite being the big old age of nineteen, I thoroughly enjoyed! Struck with boredom at home and getting into the autumnal mood, I binged the series “Gilmore Girls” which prompted me to consider cinematic maternal relationships as well as my own. Spoilers incoming!

The relationship between Lorelai and Rory is without a doubt based on amity. Their sixteen-year age gap blurs their maternal relationship into one that could be described as more sisterly. They aren’t totally alike though. Rory is an ambitious young woman devoted to her academia whereas Lorelai as a teen herself was more of a rebel girl. Their differences make the pair dangerously compatible and complementary. Their conversations are sharp and witty with the producer drawing on popular culture as a third player within their effervescent bond. The copious references to movies, books and art elevates their relationship to one that is purposeful and fascinating. It’s obvious that they are far from being just comfortable in each-others presence.

Despite their close friendship where the two are usually equals, the producer does establish a level of authority in Lorelai as mother. For example, after Rory loses her virginity to Dean, who is married to Lindsey, Lorelai is quick to shun her and challenge her morality ( it is pretty scandalous to be fair!!!). Romantic relationships weave into and interfere with their symbiotic mother-daughter relationship quite frequently in the show. Lorelai’s disdain for Jess places strain on their relationship as she believes he is a bad influence on Rory. Of course, Lorelai is taking the role of protector here, however Rory and Jess are evidently more romantically suited than Rory and Dean. In this sense, Lorelai prioritises her daughter’s future (of staying on track with college etc) in typical motherly fashion.

As a firm member of team Jess, I was rooting for them to get together which made me find Lorelai’s interjections quite annoying actually! Lorelai’s wish to raise Rory along a trajectory toward success perhaps points to her own insecurities about her teenage hood, involving teen pregnancy and running away, and her own relationship with her mum Emily Gilmore. Lorelai and Emily have a more transactional relationship where Emily pays for Rory’s education in exchange for weekly Friday night dinners. Their relationship is tense as Lorelai’s chilled approach to life collides with sharp and strait-laced Emily: setting up for major bumps along the road. They fundamentally don’t understand each-other and run-in different circles, and both are too proud to insert (or reinsert for Lorelai) themselves into them.

Although Lorelai is idolised by fans, she does make mistakes too. She bad-mouths her mum, nationally, in a newspaper article about the inn. Similarly, Emily intervenes with Lorelai’s romantic connections, particularly with Luke as she consistently scorns his lower-class status. Their own turbulent relationship unveils new dimensions to both characters which are 95% of the time not pretty. I think this is the greatest contrast between the pairs of mother-daughters; that Rory and Lorelai bring out the best of each-other, whereas Lorelai and Emily bring out the worst.

Of course, the makeup of a mother-daughter relationship is not homogenous, and each relationship is different. The relationship between Mrs Kim and Lane acts a foil to the relationship between Lorelai and Rory. While Lorelai and Rory share a flourishing relationship that spins on an axis of friendship, Mrs Kim and Lane share a more tumultuous relationship in which Mrs Kim parents more severely: denying Lane of certain liberties and enforcing strict rules. Her military style of parenting is for comic effect with her short and snappy utterances. It creates an estranged maternal relationship however as Lane fears her mother. There’s little trust and Lane is often riddled with anxiety when it comes to outings with boys, dying her hair and her CD collection.

However, as the show progresses, Mrs Kim loosens her leash on her daughter and comes to accept her daughter’s musical endeavours. This quite precisely defines the evolution of conventional mother-daughter relationship; being conscious of a child’s independence as they get older. I can remember the transition from “Mum can I go out tonight” to “Mum I’m going to Ellie’s later I’ll take a key…”- lush! . As Mrs Kim becomes laxer, we find ourselves rooting for their relationship and them as a pair, instead of Lane versus her mother. Mrs Kim helping Zach with lyrics for a pop song shows a nugget of her wilder side allowing for the audience to revel in Lane and Mrs Kim content, instead of sympathise with Lane.

The absence of a mother is also worth scrutinising. In season 2, Jess is shipped to his uncle Luke’s in Stars Hollow. Jess is the archetypal bad boy and very sexy indeed. He has acerbic squabbles with Dean, skives off school and plays funny pranks on Taylor. It seems the director aims to attribute his rebellions to a lack of maternal and paternal guidance. Through the familial relationship with Luke and romantic with Rory, Jess grows up. The uncle-nephew relationship between Luke and Jess has its ups and downs and becomes one of the strongest familial relationships in the show. They don’t share explicitly intimate moments like Lorelai and Rory but over-time their relationship strengthens as Jess begins to value Luke’s care. Jess’ cry for familial love and Luke’s fierce loyalty make them a well-matched duo. Their relationship brings much of the physical comedy to early seasons such as when Luke pushes Jess into the lake and when Jess wears a flannel and baseball cap to the diner as he thought that was “uniform”.

When you watch the show, you wish you had Lorelai and Rory’s relationship with your own mum. Though quirky, their tiffs as well as laughs makes their relationship familiar and grounded. The stability of their friendship sets up a comfort blanket around the show’s dramas making it the ultimate feel-good watch. We know that Rory and Lorelai will reconcile whatever happens. As Lorelai says in season 2: “Rory and I are best friends... We are best friends first, and mother and daughter second,”, a warming idea that aptly accompanies a hot chocolate on an autumnal evening.


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