“Little Fires Everywhere” – the Flame of Motherly Love [Review]

Little Fires Everywhere


Title: “Little Fires Everywhere” (series TV)

Release Date: 2020

Cast: Reese Witherspoon, Kerry Washington, Rosemarie DeWitt, Joshua Jackson, Jade Pettyjohn, Jordan Elsass, Gavin Lewis, Megan Stott, Lexi Underwood




The miniseries “Little Fires Everywhere” available on Amazon, is an interesting moral production with a great cast, which focuses on the confrontation of different models of motherhood. Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington play the roles of women raising their children under different conditions and values. The series shows that, regardless of the type of parenting strategy chosen, a woman’s bond with her child is like an uncontrollable and unpredictable flame – so it can simultaneously warm, but also burn everything around it. The only thing that bothered me about “Little Fires Everywhere” was the excessive “mother-centricity” – in this world fathers play almost no significant role, and all the credit and, of course, the blame for educational stumbles is transferred to women.

“Little Fires Everywhere” – a story from the 1990s

The series “Little Fires Everywhere” distributed in Poland on Amazon originally premiered on the Hulu platform in 2020. The production is based on a novel by American writer Celeste Ng. The script was written by Liz Tigelaar, who also co-produced the project along with the actresses playing the lead roles – Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. The series is set in the 1990s in the suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio. Mia Warren, a single mother raising her teenage daughter Pearl (Lexi Underwood), arrives in town. The woman is a talented artist, but who finds it difficult to make a living from her work, so she has to imbibe various jobs to provide for herself and her child. Mia’s plight is quickly noticed by Elena (played by Reese Witherspoon), a well-to-do mother of four children, and decides to rent her her family home for a small sum. Soon the women make a closer acquaintance and begin to compare their lifestyles and raising their offspring.

Both heroines have their own problems and a mysterious past history that determined their choices and subsequent fates. In turn, discovering the true face of each of them is a truly fractious activity and is as strong a lure for the viewer as the desire to know the reason for the series-opening powerful scene of Elena’s beautiful house fire.

LittleFires Everywhere series review

“Little Fires Everywhere” – different models of motherhood

“Little Fires Everywhere” I perceive primarily as a clash of two radically different models of motherhood. For on the one hand we have the black Mia, a single mother of an only child who can barely make ends meet, who faces completely different problems than Elena. For Reese Witherspoon’s heroine is a white, wealthy mother of four with the financial support of her lawyer husband. Her professional editorial work is more of a hobby than a real necessity. Mia’s life is full of chaos and uncertainty – the woman constantly changes her place of residence, and her daughter lives without a permanent place or friends. Elena, on the other hand, leads an extremely orderly existence, she has been living with the same town since she was a child, and she has totally everything planned in her calendar, including the dates of sexual intimacies with her husband.

At first glance, it might seem that Elena leads a perfect, trouble-free life, but as we get closer, we see more and more cracks in this perfect family photograph. There’s a symbolic scene in the series, by the way, in which the heroine throws a tantrum before the annual Christmas photo is taken, because she dreams that it looks exactly as she dreamed it would. Unfortunately, reality pales in comparison with her designs, so Elena obsessively tries to bend it, controlling almost everything and everyone. Her organizer is therefore almost a Freudian attribute of neuroticism, and ignoring the problems of her growing children builds an increasingly ominous atmosphere of impending disaster. Elena’s mental tension is explained by threads from her past, and polygamy appears as a great burden that is not easy to cope with. As I watched on screen the protagonist’s difficult relationship with her youngest daughter, Izzy (Megan Stott), the famous novel “The Fifth Child” by British Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing came to mind. This motif of difficult, to some extent unaccepted motherhood clearly echoes in the series “Little Fires Everywhere” analogous to Lessing’s prose.

“Little Fires Everywhere” – different models of female acting

I rate Reese Withespoon’s performance itself very highly. I do not sense a shadow of falsity in her, on the contrary – courage in showing situations that are often shameful and absent from the official discourse on motherhood. Elena, as played by Witherspoon, is the embodiment of a seemingly ideal mother – well-groomed, perfectly organized, combining domestic duties with professional work, committed to raising children, present at interviews, always available. But those single moments when she pauses for a moment in the reel with a look full of pain betray everything that this ideal image is bought with: constant tension, fatigue, stress, sleepless nights and buried dreams from the past.

series Little Fires Everywhere 2021

I will frankly admit that in the case of Mia I have a bit of a problem. On the one hand, her character is very interesting, but on the other hand, incredibly annoying. Kerry Washington’s acting did not allow me to fully like or accept this heroine. Perhaps that was the idea behind this character: she was supposed to be somewhat arrogant, sometimes brazen, brave and over-the-top. All of this certainly succeeded, but I missed, however, more of the diversity that I see in Reese Witherspoon (nota bene also at times driving the viewer to rage). Much more to my liking was Tiffany Bone playing the role of young Mia, who also recently appeared in the series “Nine Perfect Strangers.” The most surprising thing to me is that Mia, who seemingly at the outset, “takes it all in”: for her economic plight and single motherhood automatically arouse the viewer’s sympathy, is ultimately less understandable to me than Elena and a bit alien.

“Little Fires Everywhere” and Freudian mother-centrism

“Little Fires Everywhere” is certainly worth appreciating for its complex analysis of motherhood and succinct treatment of this issue in a kind of film metaphor. For the title bonfires have an ambivalent dimension: the fire, like the love between mother and child, warms and purifies, but can also destroy. Personally, however, I was overwhelmed by a certain excess of responsibility attributed to the figure of the mother. This focus, typical of Freud’s theory, on the woman as the only significant figure from whom all good flows, but also all evil affecting the child’s subsequent fate seems a bit exaggerated.

Fathers are almost absent from the series – some for obvious reasons (single mothers are shown), while others function in the family only physically, taking neither responsibility nor blame for any parenting failures. So I couldn’t help feeling that in the end Elena wasn’t treated entirely fairly – was she that much at fault? Or should the fire of her big house be treated ambiguously? Maybe ideal motherhood is an impossible project to the end, because parenting plans are constantly verified and sabotaged by the children themselves – who will always remain the “closest to human Other” man – stubbornly do not want to be and will never be our copies fitting into the roles carefully designed for them.