Show Less
Restricted access

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


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.

Show Summary Details
Restricted access

6 Conclusion


← 358 | 359 →

6   Conclusion

No work is ever the last word; no single novel needs to be all-inclusive… . Jane Smiley (1991)1

The analysis of the five novels and novellas provides an overall picture of Oates’s mothers and shows how the author explores child abandonment as well as maternal indifference, self-sacrifice, violence, and fulfillment in the manner of her psychological realism. The examined works offer a multi-faceted composition of maternal motives, behavior, and feelings when taken together. Oates’s work indeed reflects the development of the feminist discourse as Brenda Daly has pointed out in the Seventies. While I Lock My Door Upon Myself deals with women’s situation at the beginning of the twentieth century and the central first-wave claims, The Rise of Life on Earth covers the Sixties and illustrates the second-wave debate on abortion and women’s access to the workplace. Middle Age and Missing Mom refer to the new momism, which was fueled by third-wavers like Rebecca Walker, as they represent women’s return to the domestic sphere in present society. Oates’s criticism of it and her recent portrayal of a professionally successful, childless woman in Mudwoman imply that she feels women have started to react to their re-domestication with a new repudiation of motherhood. Her fictional criticism deals with many issues that are also discussed in the feminist discourse. For instance, Mudwoman warns about the glorification of motherhood as it happens through the third wave similar to Elisabeth Badinter’s The Conflict.

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.