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(Originally posted to my Silent Hill site, The 4th Floor .)
The symbolic importance of both Mary and Maria are entirely wrapped in one another: they are mirror images, reflections, and understanding one necessitates understanding the other. They come with a dual context that makes exploring their symbolism jointly very important.
It also requires, to some extent, discussing James, in relation to these two women; and to a greater extent, aspects of the Bible and Christianity, which were drawn upon for this game. Symbols and themes from the Christian Bible are strewn throughout Silent Hill 2, and in many ways its primary female characters are easily relatable to some of Christianity’s most important women.
The most obvious would be Mary, as in the mother of Christ, one of the holiest and most venerable of Christian women. The pious sanctity of her image translates onto Mary Shepherd. She is portrayed, first and foremost, as the “wife”. She is a figure deserving of such love and devotion that James would brave Silent Hill for her. That says something about her worth. Most of all, the game endows her with an aspect of holiness akin to Mary; the photo James carries of Mary is an idyllic vision. Her clothes, that are soft, pale, feminine colors, haloed by the light of the flashlight, also pull in concepts of holiness and even angelic aspects.
But let’s not forget that the Bible had two Mary’s: the mother, and Mary Magdalene, whose reputation in popular culture is that of a less-than-pious woman turning a certain sexual trade. But the context in that day and age of being a prostitute, was one in which prostitution was basically the only trade open to unmarried women. It was either marry, become a prostitute, or starve. Mary of Magdala, whatever her trade, was the only female apostle, the only one to write her own Gospel (partial pieces of which were found in Nag Hammadi).
The Mother Mary is an interesting figure. Though tradition dictates that she was married to a man named Joseph, and that Jesus was conceived of a virgin birth, there are some historical facts that make that more than slightly hard to believe. For one, many aspects of the birth of Jesus story, in both of the Gospels which tell the tale, are inaccurate. Jesus was unlikely to have been born in Bethelhem, for one, and the concept of the ‘virgin birth’ may have been created after his death, to combat rumors of his illegitimate birth. It is much, much more likely that Mary became pregnant out of wedlock. As for Joseph’s, he’s rarely mentioned in the Bible, and it’s possible he either died early in Jesus’s life or never existed.
Whether the ‘virgin birth’ really happened, Christian tradition surrounding Mary and Jesus has some interesting connotations for Mary and Maria. Mary Shepherd, in a way, also has a virgin birth through “intercourse” with a God: Maria is created through Mary and Silent Hill, and no mortal man has any part in the proceedings. Maria is created solely for the redemption of man, a specific man in our case, and she dies in order to redeem him. In this scenario, Mary Shepherd quite literally takes on the role of Mary, mother of God, and Maria becomes the Christ, born to redeem the sinful man.
This story is hardly a direct metaphor, however, and there are plenty of biblical figures who can be tied to Maria. Take, for instance, the unruly first wife of Adam, named Lilith. There are connections that can be made between Adam, Eve, and Lilith and our trifecta of James, Mary, and Maria.
The Bible is a little… strange, about the creation story. That is, there are two stories, and it implies that a woman is created twice. Inclusions of other texts and traditions introduce us to the character of Lilith, supposedly the first woman made by God for Adam, who refused to lay down peacefully for him, and basically ran off to do her own thing. Her own thing being, becoming the mother of a bunch of demon spawn.
There are shades of Lilith in both Mary and Maria, specifically in their demonic other forms when they do battle against James. For one, Lilith has often been portrayed as something of a sexual predator, a seductress or succubus, out to tempt poor male souls into damnation. Maria’s role as the seductress leading James astray has shades of this weaponized feminine sexuality, but Silent Hill turns this somewhat on its head. Where Lilith is a vile demon leading good men astray, James is already condemned as a criminal and a monster; Maria as a temptation is a way of testing James’ spirit, a further measure of his desire for and worthiness of redemption. In this way, she is performing a good deed, because her actions allow him the chance to reject her, and thus embrace redemption. She is helping.
Lilith also tends to have wings in most incarnations, and wings are heavily associated with both women. Both of them become bosses which fly or hover in the air. Maria has a butterfly tattooed onto her waist.
Lilith’s crime, choosing to leave Adam to prioritize her own desires, directly correlates with Maria’s conflicted feelings about James. Like Lilith and Eve, she was created for a man. Her sole purpose is to help him find redemption. Obviously, this upsets her, and throughout the game it becomes clear that she is not so sure she wants to be relegated to this. At times, she seems to embrace it; but this seems to relate more to her own terror at their situation, loneliness, and a need for physical and emotional comfort. I have no doubt that if she’d had an alternative, she’d have turned to someone else.
Maria wavers between the positions of Eve and Lilith. At times, she seems more pleased with, or at least resigned to, her role. At others, she appears to rebel or rail against it, angered by the injustice of being created solely to die for a man who may not even be worth the sacrifice. All at once, shades of Eve, Lilith, and even the Christ exist in Maria’s struggle to accept that she must die, she will die, if this man is to redeem himself.
Mary, on the other hand, is mostly a passive and static figure. The figures of Eve and Mary, good women and wives, exist alongside her, mostly to associate her with their purity and holiness. They highlight how horrid James’ crime was, by showing the gamer that this was a good woman, a holy woman even, who did not deserve his treatment.
Yet we can’t forget Mary isn’t quiet the whole game. We begin learning a great deal more about her later on, including her anger and suffering due to her illness. Here, the perfect image begins to crack; the wife takes out her suffering upon her husband, and he is either driven by anger or mercy to kill her. This begs the question: what kind of relationship was this, that illness broke it so easily? That Mary did not, in her time of need, reach for James, but pushed him away?
Mary was in her mid-twenties when she died; she must have married young. It was 1993 when she was killed, so she was born around 1975, a tumultuous time period for many in the United States. Mary’s life and maturity come after the end or the slow steady halt of many social movements, which would’ve had great impacts upon her life. But it was hardly the grand utopia of equality that many were fighting for, and expectations constantly fell short.
Marriage was still a huge expectation for women; they were groomed for it, made to believe it was the be-all, end-all of a woman’s life. But the other social and economic stresses of life, combined with sexist expectations at home, created quite a bit of friction in the home.
Remember the video camera scene, where we see Mary practically begging James to allow them to come back to Silent Hill? The phrasing of that scene is very deliberate – this is not an equal partner in a relationship saying, “This is a nice place, we should come back sometime.” This is a wife (subordinate) asking her husband (‘head of the household’) permission to return.
This is a very traditional Christian mindset which holds strong in most of the United States today; and in examining the possible realities of Mary’s youth, and how her marriage played out, I don’t see it as hard to believe that she found her life wanting. Robbed of everything at such a young age, she attacks the one she deems responsible, the husband society said she must have, who she must serve and obey, whom she dedicated the scant years of her life to.
This ties easily into the Eve/Lilith parallels, because we see the Eve (perfect idyllic wife) of James’ false memories fade into the Lilith (angry, suffering woman pushing men away) of reality during Mary’s years of sickness.
Aslan, Reza. "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth." New York: Random House, 2013.
Collins, Gail. "When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present." New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009.
Gaines, Janet Howe. "Lilith: Seductress, Heroine or Murderer?" 2012, http://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/lilith/
The Gnostic Society Library. "Gnostic Scriptures and Fragments: The Gospel According to Mary." http://gnosis.org/library/marygosp.htm
Harris, Stephen L. "Understanding the Bible." 8th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2011.