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"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 ARE endless.)

Selective Bibliography:
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 Press, 1989.
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)

 

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