Hulu’s original miniseries, Little Fires Everywhere, sparks conversation on motherhood


Erin Simkin/Hulu from Tribune News Service subscription

Elena (Reese Witherspoon) and Mia (Kerry Washington) in “Little Fires Everywhere.”

Elyssa Reed, A&E Editor

The Hulu original miniseries Little Fires Everywhere erupts a fire in every one of us about what is right and wrong surrounding the true nature of motherhood. 

Little Fires Everywhere is based on the bestselling book by Celeste Ng. This series follows the Richardson family and how their lives intersect with the mysterious mother daughter duo who recently moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio. 

A main theme that’s highlighted throughout this series is motherhood. It’s closely examined through the actions and ideas of Elena Richardson as played by Reese Witherspoon.

“I think when you think your mother has lost control or you finally see that part of your mother that is very human and almost monstrous, to use Mia’s word, the children act out in a way because of it,” actress Reese Witherspoon said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. 

Witherspoon’s portrayal of Elena Richardson effectively embodies just a single aspect of what motherhood is. Motherhood is different to every woman, but the common factor is the child/children they’re raising.

Elena is by far a conventional mother. She needs everything to be perfect and all according to her. I see it as a woman who didn’t have much of handle on her life as a young adult, so now she tries to control every aspect of it. Her controlling tendencies put a lot of pressure onto her four children to meet her expectations.

Elena shares an extremely strained relationship with her youngest daughter, Izzy. Elena expects Izzy to fall into line and fit into their picture perfect family. Izzy is rebellious and just wants to be understood by Elena. Izzy ignites a fire each time she tries to express herself. When taking a family Christmas photo, Elena told Izzy to wear tartan Keds to match the rest of the family. Izzy refused and Elena, usually calm and composed, told her to “put the [expletive] shoes on.”

However, Elena’s strained relationship with Izzy started before she was even born. Elena gave up an opportunity to be a journalist for the New York Times, and instead went to start a family in the suburbs of Ohio. She ended up being a reporter at the local newspaper. 

After having three children practically back to back, three was the limit. Izzy wasn’t planned, therefore, she wasn’t wanted by Elena. Her resentment of Izzy for simply existing was because she saw Izzy as the wrench in her plans to restart her career. Elena goes on to tell her that it’s hard to be her mom and even goes as far to say that she didn’t want her in the first place.

Elena pushes her wants and goals that she gave up to start her family, onto her children. Since she wasn’t able to live her life out because she had children, then her children are going to live it out for her. All of them fall into her perfect world, except Izzy. Elena sees her as the child she never wanted in the first place and unappreciative of what she has had to give up to give Izzy this life. 

That’s what all mothers want for their children, though. They want their children to succeed, but viewers ask themselves: at what cost? 

Little Fires Everywhere is an extraordinary story exploring motherhood, honesty, and the reality of justice. Witherspoon’s portrayal of Elena was an integral part of creating the second side of the story. She showed the strengths and weaknesses that mothers must bear, all while making viewers question whether or not she was just in her mothering.