This study has analyzed the ways in which the absent mother is presented in Slovak and Romani fairy tales. The dead biological mother’s position is frequently taken by a stepmother who acts not only as an antagonist for the child protagonists but also as a complex parental figure in her own right: she tries to fulfill her maternal role by (breast)feeding her children, when she sacrifices her breast for them, and also by other acts of motherly care. In spite of such efforts, she fails to become the ideal, positive mother figure, similarly to other mother figures in the story, including Little Sister as an immature mother figure trying to feed and protect her brother and the evil mid-wife, possibly, the mother-in-law, who fails to nurture Little Sister after she gives birth. She is afraid to lose the control she has over the king because she tries to substitute another girl as his wife. Her failure is to see that the kindness of the girl from the forest is more important than keeping the traditions of the court (linking to the Romani story). In the Romani fairy tale, the (step)mother is too weak to protect the life of her black son. My analysis argues that although the stories present the mother as an ambivalent figure, absent, dead and occupying only a marginal position in her children’s story, there is a way to read from another perspective that shows she is in fact central to the story of the child’s separation and independence: motherless protagonists can further their own individual development and avoid their mothers’ fate as well as their stepmothers’ plans for them.
The study shows that both fairy tales begin with the death of the biological mother not only as a plot device to further the story. ‘Little Fawn Brother’ and ‘Black and White Brother’ are not only orphan stories of running away from abuse and victimization, growing up and constructing an independent identity, but also (step)mothers’ stories of problematic separation, aging and losing power and control. The marginalization, absence, and repression of the mother figure furthers the children’s story: when the mother figure is removed, the children can avoid her fate of poverty and victimization. The stories map processes of growing up and growing old, and the stories can be read as a dangerous clash of these two perspectives: the (step)parent’s anxious attempt to keep the child close, almost within the (step)mother’s body; and the child’s horror of being killed and/or consumed by the (step)parent. Both fairy tales are resolved and the child’s wish is granted, the horribly present (step)mother is defeated and children are protected by the absent biological mother. However, all the children, Little Sister, Little Brother as well as the Black Brother in Slovak Romani fairy tale, become strong, independent individuals and parents. Now, it is their time to grow old and lose.