Study Guide

Coraline Family

By Neil Gaiman

Family

Coraline shook her head. "Why don't you play with me?" she asked.

"Busy," he said. "Working," he added. He still hadn't turned around to look at her. (2.50-51)

Coraline's parents are totally distracted at the start of the novel: it's pretty much their defining characteristic. Do you think Coraline handles this well?

"Yes, dear. Now, I think you could do with some more hair clips, don't you?"

"No."

"Well, let's say half a dozen, to be on the safe side," said her mother.
Coraline didn't say anything. (3.11-14)

Hmmm, Coraline's mom doesn't seem to be listening to her. Do you think she's ignoring her or just being an overprotective mom and getting those hair clips "just in case"?

"Yes," said the other mother. "It wasn't the same here without you. But we knew you'd arrive one day, and then we could be a proper family." (3.60)

In contrast to Coraline's distracted parents, the other mother emphasizes how Coraline is totally central to the family. Is she being honest? What clues do we have to answer this question?

"We'll see you soon, though," said her other father. "When you come back."

"Um," said Coraline.

"And then we'll all be together as one big, happy family," said her other mother. "For ever and always." (4.124-126)

The other mother's cheerfulness is actually very disturbing and creepy. Would it have been creepy if Coraline's real family talked to her this way? Why or why not?

But reflected in the mirror were her parents. They stood awkwardly in the reflection of the hall. They seemed sad and alone. As Coraline watched, they waved to her, slowly, with limp hands. (5.35)

The imagery here emphasizes how sad and almost pathetic Coraline's trapped parents are. We certainly feel sympathy for them, although we're torn because of how they treated Coraline earlier in the story.

"You don't frighten me," said Coraline, although they did frighten her, very much. "I want my parents back." (5.102)

This is a pretty neat line. Coraline makes a proclamation and then, immediately, the narrator reveals to the reader that it's a complete lie. Either way, Coraline's determination to rescue her family gives her enough courage to stand her ground against the other mother.

"I don't want to play with you," she said. "I want to go home and be with my real parents. I want you to let them go. To let us all go."

The other mother shook her head, very slowly. "Sharper than a serpent's tooth," she said, "is a daughter's ingratitude." (6.80)

This scene is a weird (and creepy) parody of a typical argument between a mother and daughter. In Coraline's case, it's a fight between a daughter and her kidnapper/would-be mother. Yikes.

She said, "You know that I love you."

And, despite herself, Coraline nodded. It was true: the other mother loved her. But she loved Coraline as a miser loves money, or a dragon loves its gold. (9.7-8)

Coraline's realization and insight here are really powerful. The other mother does really love Coraline, but in a twisted way. How is this kind of love different than familial love?

Then she hugged her mother so tightly that her arms began to ache. Her mother hugged Coraline back. (12.5)

The detail about Coraline's arms aching emphasizes how relieved she is to see her mother. This is much more striking than simply saying "she was happy to see her."

He had his back to her, but she knew, just on seeing him, that his eyes, when he turned around, would be her father's kind gray eyes, and she crept over and kissed him on the back of his balding head. (12.12)

This sentence not only reminds us of the contrast between Coraline's real father and her other father (who sure doesn't have "kind gray eyes"). It's also a contrast with the the start of the novel, when Coraline's distracted father won't even look at her. So has her father changed, or just her perception of him?

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