In my formative years, I was obsessed with VC Andrews. I think what drew me to the books was the dark and taboo nature of them, filled with rich family secrets and incestuous forbidden love. Reading them felt risky and exhilarating. I experienced a weird rush when someone knew what I was reading about. I have read several books in the Dollanganger series as an adult (the writing now much cheesier in my eyes), but this was my first time revisiting the book that started my obsession: Flowers in the Attic.
It was easy for me to take everything at face-value, as I did when I was younger, fixating on the children being locked away and questioning the intentions of a mother who is supposed to love and take care of them. I will admit, when I was younger, I was more interested in the love affair between brother and sister because I have always been a crude, middle school boy.
But I have been picking up more of the underlying messages. I started to read this book more as a parable than something that seems so sick and twisted. This time I read the story from the frame of the mother rather than her children. I have been picking up a lot of patterns of motherhood lately, and I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t fair to hold mothers to such a high standard as if they aren’t really people. Mothers can and do make mistakes. There are consequences, but their shortcomings shouldn’t be the only thing to define them.
I am convinced that people are just the sum of their trauma.
Here is my warning to you: there will be spoilers ahead.
It’s easy to sympathize with the children in the attic. They experienced so much neglect, being locked in a room for years without any social interaction. Being starved so severely at one point. Wasting away through their prime developmental years.
I hated the mother, Corinne. She was selfish and evil. She was manipulative and deceptive. She was a murderer.
She disgusted me with her weakness. But I have to remember she experienced lots of trauma, despite having everything money can buy growing up. She was conditioned to have everything provided to her, and when she had to make a life for herself, she was as if she were an animal raised in captivity and released back into the wild. She didn’t know how to take care of herself or her children.
Corrine did what she felt like she had to do to survive: throw herself at the mercy of men in order to sustain the lifestyle she was used to. That was survival for her. Her own survival had to come at the expense of her children.
Some people have too much trauma and not enough coping skills to be effective parents. Trauma isn’t necessarily a negative event; it’s how that event affects you down the road. This is how people with lots of money can still experience trauma.
Money is a source of power. And as we can see from the Stanford Prison Experient, giving people power can turn them into people who do awful things they never thought they would be capable of doing.
Corrine has been powerless all her life, except for having money. When her opportunity to have her money on her own terms (after her father dies and gives the stipulation in his will that the money would be taken from her if she is ever found to be a mother), she has to take it so she could no longer be at the mercy of overbearing men (except for her young husband of course) and her mother, even if it means getting rid of her children.
I say all of this to say that I am not using her trauma as an excuse of attempting to murder her children so she could live her life free (to some degree). I merely point out these things because they show a potential reason for her thinking.
Seeing humanity is not only seeing the ways we are all connected; it is also seeing our potential for darkness. Flowers in the Attic and the rest of VS Andrews’s books aren’t just sick and twisted books from some writer with issues, it is a thought experiment to show us how far our shadows can really stretch. It is commentary on the ugliness of excessive wealth.
Money can help with hella problems, but it can be the root of a lot of pain and trauma too.