Date of Award

5-4-2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Pearl McHaney

Second Advisor

Matthew Dischinger

Third Advisor

H. Calvin Thomas

Abstract

My dissertation will analyze mothers and maternal figures in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, William Faulkner’s Light in August, Eudora Welty’s The Golden Apples, and Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard and other poems according to a feminist psychoanalytic framework that argues for the significance of Freudian castration occurring at birth instead of during a child’s early years. I contend that the mother’s body may be seen as a site of castration instead of a site of wholeness and plenitude; because the mother embodies traumatic separation or its possibility, the mother-child relationship is marked by lifelong ambivalence. The traumatic symbolic designation of the mother’s body has the same repercussions for a relationship between a maternal or caretaker figure and the children in her charge. My approach to analyzing the pre-Oedipal mother and the consequences of birth entails classifying the mother as a more powerful and complex figure than most current scholarly work on mothers has supposed her to be; further, my analysis of the mother’s power in giving birth to selfhood and subjectivity involves contesting Freudian and Freudian-influenced theory, the prevailing psychoanalytic theory that lends the mother little agency. Though psychoanalytic theory is intended to report on the way things are, not the way things should be, theory allied with Freud misrepresents the mother as marginalized and silent. Rereading the southern mother according to feminist revisions of Freud is particularly significant, since southern culture has absorbed and normalized two roles for the middle-class, white southern woman, the belle and the lady, and one role for the black southern woman, the mammy, while often erasing or ignoring women who fall outside of these roles. Rereading the mother, then, can reconfigure her as central to culture and powerful in her creation of selfhood.

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