Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours


School of Language and Literature


Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences


This thesis examines the effect of maternal absence on the ability of three central female characters to develop intersubjective relationships in three novels for young adults. The theoretical framework is Jessica Benjamin's psychoanalytic theory of 'intersubjectivity' which seeks to transcend split complementarities such as active-passive creating a model that synthesises traditionally opposed terms. Benjamin situates maternal subjectivity as the foundation from which a baby's identity is constructed and attributes women with both active and passive qualities. The relationship between mother and infant consequently acts as a paradigm for understanding the interaction between adult subjects in later life. Chapter One introduces my understanding of Benjamin's work. Here I discuss the origin of the 'two-subject', intersubjective approach in psychoanalysis. I explain Benjamin's intersubjective theory and foreground her four stages of child development. I suggest the importance of the transitional space of the 'third term' and finally consider the importance of the mother-child relationship in understanding human interactions. The subsequent chapters consider three novels in light of Benjamin's model of intersubjectivity. Chapter two focuses on Speaking to Miranda by Caroline Macdonald (1990). Here I argue that in the central character's quest to connect with her dead mother's past, she is able to achieve an intersubjective status and assert active agency over her future. Chapter three focuses on Back on Track: Diary of a Street Kid by Margaret Clark (1995). In this novel, the central character's dead mother occupies an object/victim position. I argue that this negative role model from her past casts an uncertain light on the beneficial long-term impacts the central character gains from the intersubjective relationship with her diary. Chapter four considers Letters from the Inside by John Marsden (1991). Here I argue that the ultimate failure of intersubjective relatedness with her pen pal causes the central character to regress to an infantile stage of development