This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

Staging and Upstaging Revolt: The Maternal Function in Twentieth Century Drama




Blake, Thomas

Type of Degree





This dissertation explores the maternal role in subject formation and surveys varying depictions of this role in twentieth-century drama. While sifting through the genealogy of psychoanalytic theory, this project investigates how the dutiful mother, spawned by phallocentric notions of subjectivity and emerging in works like Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba and Norman’s’night, Mother, passively yields to prevailing ideology and integrates her children into oppressive Symbolic structures. By examining the “correctives” to the Freudian-Lacanian paradigms proffered by Kristeva and Irigaray, this dissertation identifies how, when challenging patriarchal conceptions of the maternal function, these feminist philosophers each rely heavily on both Heidegger’s fundamental ontology and Arendtian political action. Kristeva and Irigaray provide the theoretical framework from which conceptual space for the revolutionary mother can be carved. This mother, in contradistinction to the Freudian-Lacanian mother, sanctions existing cultural practices only when she deems them ethically sound. Emerging in works like Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul, the potentials for revolt churning in the maternal function clearly surface. The revolutionary mother urges her children to reject injustice, to respect difference, and to pursue, in Heideggerian terms, the authentic mode of Being. This work concludes by arguing that drama presents the ideal mode of literary representation for expressing the revolutionary power of the maternal function. As Heidegger, Arendt, Kristeva, and Irigaray each depart from a tradition of detached, universal objectivity by re-inserting the physical body into philosophical discourse, theatrical performance, via performance, depicts literature embodied. By presenting convergent data from the emerging field of cognitive science, this work identifies intersections between corporeal philosophy and dramatic performance and how these intersections can help us, when necessary, to restructure our culture, our ethics, and our interactions with other human beings.