Date of Award

Summer 8-11-2011

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Pearl A. McHaney, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Elizabeth West, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Nancy Chase, Ph.D.


Twentieth-century American literature is filled with new images of motherhood. Long gone is the idealism of motherhood that flourished during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in life and in writing. Long gone are the mother help books and guides on training mothers. The twentieth-century fiction writer ushers in new examples of motherhood described in novels that critique the bad mother and turn a critical eye towards the role of women and motherhood. This study examines the trauma surrounding twentieth-century motherhood and surrogacy; in particular, how abandonment, rape, incest, and negation often results in surrogacy; and how selected authors create characters who as mothers fail to protect their children, particularly their daughters. This study explores whether the failure is a result of social-economic or physiological circumstances that make mothering and motherlove impossible or a rejection of the ideal mother seldom realized by contemporary women, or whether the novelists have rewritten the notion of the mother’s help books by their fragmented representations of motherhood. Has motherhood become a rejection of self-potential?

The study will critique mother-daughter relationships in four late twentieth-century American novels in their complex presentations of motherhood and surrogacy: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye (1970), Kaye Gibbons’s Ellen Foster (1990), Dorothy Allison’s Bastard Out of Carolina (1992) and Sapphire’s Push (1997). Appropriated terminology from other disciplines illustrates the prevalence of surrogacy and protection in the subject novels. The use of surrogate will refer to those who come forward to provide the role of mothering and protection.