Date of Award

1-1-2003

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Dr Richard Rossiter

Abstract

This thesis is a study of the representations of mothers and mother figures as found in five contemporary (published between 1984 and 1999) novels for teenagers. The focus is on western constructions of motherhood, as both normalising and universalising discourses. Utilising a variety of critical approaches this thesis examines the socio-cultural issues present in the novels in conjunction with western models of maternity. This study argues the category of mother is interdependent upon the category of child. As children's literature often focuses on the development of the child, the mother figures are often read as the “unconscious” of the texts. I examine the extent to which the mother figures are given a "subject-in-processness" (Lucas, 1998, p.39) subjectivity. The texts considered are The Changeover(First published in 1984) by Margaret Mahy; Greylands (1997) by lsobelle Carmody; Speaking to Miranda (First published in 1990) by Caroline Macdonald: Touching earth lightly (1996) by Margo Lanagan and Closed, Stanger(1999) by Kate De Goldi. In part, the selection of the texts has been based upon the various and multifaceted relationships between the mothers and the children. I use the Mahy text as a means to establish selected mother and, to a lesser degree, child characteristics. Some comparisons are made with this sole text of the 19805, in order to ascertain if there has been an evolution in the articulation of mother, figures in the 1990s. This study does not adopt a survey approach nor does it claim that the five novels present all the categories of "mother". Rather it addresses categories such as, mother as nurturer, as sexual being and, importantly, the dichotomy of the “good/bad" mother. Within western discourses of maternity, this latter category is still used as a model by which to label women who mother. This study considers the stability of this binary within the novels. This thesis relies upon close reading of the primary texts. The emphasis is on critical approaches that draw attention to contexts, with particular emphasis on the socio-cultural issues present in each particular novel. My readings suggest that there is the possibility for engagement with the texts' social content/comment, in conjunction with the representations of western models of maternity. I draw from a variety of motherhood discourses and theoretical approaches, including amongst others, the work of Luce Irigaray, HeIene Cixous, Judith Hennan, Martha Fineman, Rose Lucas, and Robyn McCallum.

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