Date of Award

6-21-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Cheryl Wilson, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Karen Dandurand, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Susan Gatti, Ph.D.

Abstract

This project will focus on the multi-ethnic American mother in the mid-to-late twentieth century and where she fits into contemporary American society. I will be taking a Cultural Feminist/Historical approach to motherhood and the mother figure in multi-ethnic American families. This approach will allow me to use a feminist lens and relevant historical context to consider how the “traditional” mother or “ideal” mother figure has become a model for how mainstream society thinks the mother figure should be. Attention to this model will demonstrate how the non-traditional, ethnic mother breaks this mold the implications and repercussions of her inability to achieve the golden standard. I will use this lens combined with a cultural feminist approach to look at the literary works that I have chosen: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1974) and Tar Baby (1981); Alice Walker’s The Color Purple (1982); Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (1975); Ann Petry’s The Street (1946) and Sandra Cisneros’ House on Mango Street (1987). For the project, I intend to delve into multi-ethnic motherhood to articulate how these mothers challenge and often fail when trying to attain society’s model of white, middle class motherhood. Each of the literary mother characters that I explore in this project embodies strength, yet often has the inability to rise above adversity that is created by this model. I will show that although she exemplifies a different “model” of motherhood, she is set up for failures by a society who places unrealistic expectations on women of color. The historical contextualization and feminist cultural analysis of the “ideal” mother in society will help me establish and create a framework to answer the following questions: “How does multi-ethnic motherhood challenge the ideals set by American society and do these ideals set her up for failure?” Also, “What influence has the multi-ethnic mother made on the American family, literature, and society in the late twentieth century; and what does this impact say about motherhood in general?”

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