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Motherhood and Self-Realization in the Four Waves of American Feminism and Joyce Carol Oates's Recent Fiction

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Julia Hillenbrand

The author examines motherhood and female self-realization in feminist discourse and Joyce Carol Oates’s recent fiction. While the first and second wave of feminism repudiated motherhood, the third wave claimed the right to enjoy it. The present fourth wave is now reviving the reservations about motherhood of the first two waves. This book demonstrates how Oates’s writing reflects these shifts and how Oates takes up and transforms feminist standpoints in her work without writing conventional feminist literature. Literary criticism has only marginally dealt with Oates’s mother figures. Drawing on Gender Studies and, in particular, on the transnational relation between French and American feminism, this book fills this gap.

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3 Literary Criticism

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3   Literary Criticism

3.1   Feminist Criticism of Oates’s Work: 1970 until Today

3.1.1   Early Criticism during the Second Wave

When examining the studies of Oates’s work published until 1990, it seems as if her female characters differ from the woman ideal of the second wave. Susan Koppelman Cornillon feels that Oates adheres to gender stereotypes and grants her female protagonists few options of development.1 Oates’s protagonists also do not primarily realize themselves at the workplace as the second wave wanted women to do. On the contrary, Creighton asserts that those few characters who work have to bear negative consequences concerning their femininity and sexuality.2 In addition, she claims, they do not profit from intelligence concerning their options to fulfill themselves.3

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