"The loss of the daughter to the mother,
the mother to the daughter, is the essential female tragedy,"
wrote Adrienne Rich in Of Woman Born. This is, indeed, true
especially to the literary women before the Second Wave feminisms
and their powerful critique of patriarchy and sexual politics--and
before the voices of strong "mothers" are heard,
or, if heard, worthy of emulation. Contemporary society, undoubtedly,
is still patriarchal, and the struggles between mothers and
daughters are no less intense. However, in contemporary feminist
writings of mother-daughter plots, loss is no longer the only
theme, just as the plots get more and more entangled with
such issues as those of race, class and sex.
Still, to explore the increasingly complicated
issues of mother-daughter plots, we will start with selected
writings of white feminists such as Adrienne Rich, the psychoanalysis
of Nancy Chodorow, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, as well
as some literary writers such as Sylvia Plath (her later poems)
and Marilyn Robinson (Housekeeping 1981). While these
white feminist theorists bring up common issues such as the
nature of motherhood (as biological or cultural constructions,
as patriarchal institution or experience) and maternity (as
the abject, the objects of phantasies, or role models), the
selected literary writers embody in their works experiences
of maternal love and struggles, as well as daughters' loss
and lack on an existential level.
We will then venture into three cultural regimes--the
Afro-American, the Caribbean and the Asian-American--where
the mother-daughter relationships bear more social, racial
and cultural ramifications. From the endless examples to choose
from, we will focus on Morison's Beloved, Jamaica Kincaid's
Annie John, and Maxine Hong Kingston's The Woman
Warrior and SKY Lee's Disappearing Moon Cafe. If
slavery is there to problematize Black motherhood, immigration
and colonialism, as well as the resulting cultural in-between
positions, impose more constraints on the mothers, and through
the mothers on the daughters, and thus create stronger needs
for liberation in the daughters. As we examine these cultural
variations of mother-daughter plots, then, the psychoanalytic
models of mother-daughter cathexis will in turn be subject
to either revision or replacement. (I would want to avoid
Amy Tan, unless you have strong interest in her. If time allows,
we will also read some short stories by various authors such
as Tillie Olsen, Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, Anjana Appachana,
as culturally specific stories about mothers and daughters
Chodorow, Nancy. The Reproduction of Mothering. Berkeley,
CA: University of California Press, 1978.
Hirsch, Marianne. The Mother/Daughter Plot: Narrative,
Psychoanalysis, Feminism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University
Rody, Caroline. The Daughter's Return : African-American
and Caribbean women's Fictions of History. Oxford ; New
York : Oxford University Press, 2001.
Heather Ingman, ed. Mothers and Daughters in the Twentieth
Century: A literary Anthology.
Rich, Adrienne. Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience
and Institution. New York: W. W. Norton, 1976.
Brown-Guillory, Elizabeth, ed. Women of Color: Mother-Daughter
Relationships in 20th-Century Literature. Austin, TX:
U of Texas P, 1996.
Doane, Janice, and Devon Hodges. From Klein to Kristeva:
Psychoanalytic Feminism and the Search for the "Good
Enough" Mother. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1992.
(A more extended bibliography)