Hulu’s latest miniseries “Little Fires Everywhere” has surely been living up to its very colorful title. The show which is based off the Celeste Ng novel of the same name, follows the lives of two different mothers and their families as they navigate simple everyday issues interwoven into complex ones. With Hollywood powerhouses Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon as leads, the town of Shaker will never be the same.
With no doubt, the show does not hold back any punches when it comes to exploring issues such as motherhood, identity, race, and even sexuality. The on standing feud between suburban housewife Elena Richardson (Witherspoon) and traveling single mom and struggling artist Mia Warren (Washington) intensifies grossly as viewers get a front-seat ticket to all the drama.
It all begins when Mia and her daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood) become Elena’s tenants following her renting out a vacant apartment her family owns in the town of Shaker Heights, Ohio. Elena and Mia can be best described as “frenemies” toward each other A frenemy is a person who has the outer qualities of a friend but, harbors animosity or disdain towards the alleged friend. This can potentially stem from the remarkable differences between each woman and their lives, with the most prominent being race and ethnicity. There are but so many ways Elena and Mia can avoid each other due to Pearl befriending three of Elena’s children. Mia even takes a brief stint as the housekeeper for the Richardson household.
Elena Richardson is a well-off white suburban housewife and mother to four children: Lexie, Trip, Moody, and Izzy. She holds a job as a reporter at the local newspaper while her husband Bill is a lawyer. To Elena image is everything as she goes above and beyond to make sure her family is always providing a pleasing aesthetic to the public eye. Elena’s strive for constant perfection causes her to be controlling and oblivious to problems that arise in front of her eyes, even those involving her own children. Mia Warren on the other hand, an African American single mother, comes from another spectrum. Mia makes a living as an independent artist and waitress at the “Lucky star” a local Chinese restaurant in Shaker. Prior to Mia and Pearl relocating to Shaker, they lived between different towns. Mia’s “calm before the storm” demeanor allows her to navigate certain situations sneakily prior to anything detrimental being unearthed. While working at the Lucky Star, Mia develops a bond with co-worker Bebe Chow, a single mother on the search for her child.
Mia and Bebe Chow’s relationship cultivates when she tells her of a child she gave up a year ago. Bebe Chow Is an undocumented immigrant from China who left her daughter May Ling outside of a fire station because she could not afford to properly raise and care for her. Bebe lives with the regret of her decision everyday and vows to find and reunite with her daughter one day. Unbeknownst to Bebe, her daughter was renamed Mirabelle and she is in the process of being legally adopted by Linda and Mark McCullough, good friends of the Richardson family.
When it comes to motherhood, some of the Shaker women take non traditional paths in terms of mothering and connecting with their families or lack thereof. They subconsciously and consciously allow their personal lives to intertwine with how they raise and respond to their children. For Mia, her fear of losing Pearl (whether it be physically or emotionally) translates into overprotection. She does whatever it takes to protect Pearl from any potentially harmful situations or people and develops a resentment towards Elena when she realizes Pearl has taken a liking to her and the rest of the family. Mia’s commitment to protect Pearl by any means has even driven her to lie to Pearl about who her father is and Mia’s life prior to giving birth to her. Ironically, her restrictive parenting style does not automatically translate into love and affection as Pearl often questions her mother about how much she loves and cares for her. Mia’s narrative as a black, single mother facing financial troubles, provides a new outlook to Shaker a town drenched in the privilege most of its population is obliviously accustomed to.
The white privilege Elena greatly benefits from as an affluent white woman permeates in almost all that she does especially in the way she raises her family. Elena is so wrapped up in looking like a good mother, she does not know how to be one. She does not share any authentic connection to any four of her children outside of family portraits, and being able to brag about their accomplishments. The Richardson child who experiences this the most is the youngest daughter Izzy. Elena’s lackluster attempt to hide her resentment towards Izzy plays out vividly through the season. Izzy is the complete opposite from her mother personality wise. She is rebellious, highly opinionated, and outspoken. It is possible Elena feels Izzy threatens the utopian family she spent years to create because she is unlike her. In addition to those things, Izzy cuts her hair, flaunts a flamboyant tomboy style, and has attempted to set fire to the family home multiple times in the finale episode. Izzy was the result of an accidental pregnancy and costed Elena to lose a promotion at the Shaker newspaper because she was pregnant. These factors make her relationship with Izzy a strenuous one.
For Bebe’s daughter, May Ling is torn between two motherhoods: the one she knows and the her biological mother who desires to embrace and raise her. As stated earlier, Bebe left May Ling outside of a fire station in Cleveland when she was only a few months old because she was not capable of properly providing for her. Regretting this decision, Bebe finds comfort with Mia, who later finds out that May Ling was adopted by the McCullough’s during May Ling’s first birthday party for her held at the family home. Mia immediately alerts Bebe who goes to desperate measures to get her baby back, including opening a battle of custody case against the McCullough’s. Linda McCullough, is devastated and shaken up at the possibility of losing Mirabella. Unlike the other mothers, Linda is not her daughters biological mother yet she loves Mirabella like she is. Prior to Mirabelle, Linda faced issues conceiving children. Both mothers ideologies contrast when it comes to who they believe is the “better” mother. Both Linda and Bebe loved May Ling/Mirabelle and would do anything for her. Bebe ends up losing the case to the McCullough’s but takes matters into her own hands by kidnapping the baby with the help of Mia!
Nonetheless, Mia and Elena fall short of healthy parenting when it comes to their own children, they pose a beacon of light to each others family. Pearl is drawn to the entire Richardson family, especially Elena. She enjoys spending time with her around the family home and especially coming over for dinner. Izzy develops a liking for Mia and finds solace in going over to the Warren home to spend time with Mia and express herself freely as an artist. Reasonably their daughters can feel drawn to them because they relate more than they can their biological mothers.
The mothers of Shaker individually and collectively demonstrate how a lack of resources, social status, and even white privilege can drastically affect a woman’s relationship to her child and their approach to motherhood.