Summary:Mildred Pierce, by James M. Cain, begins in pre-Depression California, and ends during World War II times, also in California.
The main character, Mildred Pierce, is a very attractive housewife of 29, raising two daughters, Ray and Veda. Although Mildred loves both her daughters, Veda is a particular obsession with Mildred. She constantly slaves away throughout the novel to do whatever she can to make Veda happy, despite the constant abuse and deception Veda inflicts upon Mildred. After a divorce from her first husband, Bert, in the opening pages of the novel, Mildred is forced to sacrifice her pride and become a waitress in order to support her family. If Veda were ever to find out, she would be appalled; a constantly recurring theme throughout this story is Veda’s pride and arrogance, and her condemnation of jobs she deems to be menial. Mildred’s main goal is to nurture Veda’s musical talents, and manages to pay for expensive music lessons from her meager salaries as a waitress and pie baker.
However, Mildred’s luck is soon to change, as she takes up with an attorney and former partner of Bert, Wally. Mildred is able to use Wally’s business and real estate savvy to build a restaurant out of a deserted model home, and from there create a thriving chain of three food businesses. After becoming bored with Wally, however, Mildred craves a relationship with another man, a prestigious local man named Monty.
Veda highly approves of her mother’s choice, as this makes her feel as if she too were more prestigious and affluent, despite having misgivings about her mother still being so low as to have an average, pedestrian job. All seems to be going well; even through Veda’s constant demands and tantrums, she still gets everything she wants, and Mildred and Monty are happy. Monty, however, falls on hard times with the coming of the Great Depression, and he constantly mooches off of Mildred’s affluence, making it a struggle for Mildred to cater to Veda’s every whim. Mildred soon dumps Monty to focus on making Veda a musical prodigy; this fails, however, when Veda is told that her piano is not up to par from a local famous music teacher.
After Veda recovers from this shock, she explores the opportunities offered by an acting career, and begins to spin more webs of deception and selfishness. After Veda forces money out of a local rich family, lying and claiming their son got her pregnant, Mildred and Veda have a major argument, and Veda disowns her mother. Left with a broken heart and a lack of reason to go on, Mildred begins to think of how she could possibly win her precious daughter back. She figures that buying Monty’s expensive house that he could no longer afford, and marrying him, as he was so popular with Veda, would surely win her daughter back. Now rich from an illustrious singing career, Veda returns to her mother, approving now of her seemingly rich lifestyle, even moving in with her mother and stepfather. Mildred soon falls on tough times, however, and spirals into an endless pit of debt as Veda’s needs are constantly met, with no financial contribution from Veda’s own considerable affluence. Coming to Veda one night to implore her help in escaping her debt, Mildred finds her beloved daughter in bed with Monty, and quickly divorces him.
As the novel draws to an end, Mildred continues to sacrifice everything for her beast of a daughter, and she, Veda, and Bert, who Mildred re-marries, are sharing a humble Christmas when a taxi sounds outside. Veda, in a final act of treachery and malice, informs her mother that their repaired relationship has simply been a publicity stunt and that she is going off to New York with Monty. She bids her parents farewell, and Mildred is left shattered, but resilient and determined to continue her life without Veda. Major Characters:The novel’s two main characters, Mildred and Veda, are analyzed below:Mildred: Mildred is a very attractive and intelligent woman, famous for her legs and successful restaurant businesses. She has a weakness for men and for her spoiled daughter, Veda. She constantly worries that Veda will disapprove of something she does, and continually takes Veda’s cruel and wicked abuse. Mildred’s maternal love for Veda is an obsession, and she will do anything to make sure her daughter is happy.
She is very protective of her daughter, warding off anyone and anything that poses a threat to Veda’s happiness. She even goes so far as to live her romantic life around her daughter, thinking not of her own happiness, but of Veda’s. She lives from one painful relationship to another, doing whatever she can to make sure Veda is living the life she wants to live.She goes above and beyond what a normal mother would do for a kind, respecting daughter, and the fact that Veda is so.