Fiction’s Best Moms and Dads

They’re kind, warm, patient, honest, tolerant, unselfish, reliable, entertaining, good listeners, occasionally firm but not smothering, and other positive things. Politicians? Not a chance. We’re talking about…great parents!

And who are the best mothers and fathers in literature? This blog post will name some of them — and all are members of the PTA: Parents to Admire.

Let’s start with that 3M person herself: Margaret “Marmee” March of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. She’s almost perfect — which is a bit unrealistic but impressive. She holds her family of four daughters together through thick and thin while dad is away during the Civil War or musing philosophical thoughts. Marmee also has an even disposition (after some hot-tempered younger years), gives good advice, is not materialistic, engages in charitable efforts, and believes girls should be thoroughly educated — not a typical 19th-century attitude.

Another memorable mother from 19th-century fiction is Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Even as she deals with her social-outcast status, she is a great single parent to Pearl — and allows her daughter to be a free spirit.

It’s hard to top the love and courage of the enslaved Eliza, who, in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, makes a harrowing escape to the North with her young son Harry to spare him from being sold to a crueler master.

The brave and self-sufficient Helen Huntington also has the safety of her son in mind when she flees an abusive marriage in Anne Bronte’s early feminist classic, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Ma Joad of The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the supreme female creation of an author, John Steinbeck, mostly known for his male protagonists. The compassionate Ma (I don’t think her first name is mentioned in the novel) has a deep reservoir of toughness and leadership qualities she will need as the Joad family gets into increasingly difficult straits.

In Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Lee is a servant/housekeeper rather than a biological parent, but he’s essentially a father — and a darn good one — to the Trask sons.

Another non-parent who’s basically a parent is orphan Denise Baudu, who becomes a substitute mother to her two younger brothers in Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames.

Matthew Cuthbert, the adoptive dad of former orphan Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, is shy and and socially awkward. But he is a sweet, gentle soul who gives Anne what she needs emotionally — and sometimes practically (we’re talking puffy-sleeved dresses here!). Matthew’s sister Marilla (Anne’s adoptive mother) is initially a tough cookie as parents go, until…

As fictional fathers go, few can match widowed lawyer Atticus Finch of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Integrity is practically his middle name, and he mixes lots of low-key love and lesson-giving when parenting his daughter Scout and her older brother Jem.

A great single dad of more recent literary vintage is Subhash Mitra, of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, who becomes a dedicated father to his niece Bela after his activist brother Udayan is murdered by police (before Bela is born).

Then there are Molly and Arthur of the large Weasley household in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Those two parents are rather eccentric and disorganized, but somehow the family dynamics work. Molly and Arthur are also fun, smart, curious, and brave — all of which rubs off on their children.

I’ve of course just scratched the surface here. Who are your favorite great parents in literature? (And, if you’d like, you could also name the most memorable bad parents. 🙂 )

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For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.