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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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1 Introduction

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1   Introduction

Aim of the Dissertation

The dissertation Motherhood and Self-Realization in the Four Waves of American Feminism and Joyce Carol Oates’s Recent Fiction will examine motherhood in the context of female self-realization in the feminist discourse and Joyce Carol Oates’s more recent fiction. The dissertation will interpret five exemplary novels and novellas: I Lock My Door Upon Myself (1990), The Rise of Life on Earth (1991), Middle Age (2001), Missing Mom (2005), and Mudwoman (2012).1 It will analyze these works in dialog with the four waves of feminism, focusing on the third wave, which set in around the Nineties.

The twentieth century contains a significant change: while the first and second wave repudiated motherhood because they considered it an obstacle to women’s self-actualization, the third wave claims the right to joy in motherhood. The doctoral thesis aims to find out whether this development is reflected in Oates’s writing with the help of the exemplary works published around the time of this shift. It will reveal how the author takes up, transforms, and questions feminist standpoints on the correlation between motherhood and personal fulfillment. The analysis will show with which concepts of life Oates, who defines herself as a feminist,2 equips her female protagonists and how she ties these concepts to their self-realization. Although Oates has communicated her advocacy of female emancipation through her work from the start, her fiction and the criticism of her characters suggest that...

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