Date of Graduation
This project considers the demands American women confront about their societal roles, particularly cultural discourses that urge women to become biological mothers. These discourses become especially compelling during eras when women transgress ideological boundaries, leaving the constructed domestic space and taking places in the public sphere. I analyze responses to these discourses as they are manifested in literature written between 1928 and 1948 as well as in the late twentieth century. My analysis, informed by cultural studies and feminist theory, depends upon my use of intersubjectivity theory, particularly as articulated by Jessica Benjamin. I discuss the role of the body as well as the psychological construction of literary characters in works that include Nella Larsen's Quicksand, Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, Carson McCullers's The Member of the Wedding, Dorothy West's The Living is Easy, and Anne Taylor Fleming's Motherhood Deferred. My discussion relies upon various cultural discourses expressed in social, medical, and political texts that emerged during the time period in which these authors wrote. I also consider the impact of eugenics and of discourses about women's (in)fertility as I read the texts of women who themselves did not become biological mothers in decades when such a role was celebrated as exemplary. I conclude that using intersubjectivity theory as well as cultural studies, both informed by feminist theory, provides an understanding of the ways that authors offer their characters a complex and complicated degree of agency in responding to cultural demands that those authors themselves did not heed.
Broaddus, Virginia Blanton, "Sowing barren ground: Constructions of motherhood, the body, and subjectivity in American women's writing, 1928-1948." (2002). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 8534.