Motherhood, Multiculturalism & the Short Story


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My presentation at the 2010 Streamlines Literary Conference at the University of Dubuque.

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Motherhood, Multiculturalism & the Short Story

  1. 1. MOTHERHOOD, MULTICULTURALISM & THE SHORT STORY Jessica Haight-Angelo Grand Canyon University Streamlines Literary Conference 13 November 2010 1 Haight-Angelo
  2. 2. TABLE OF CONTENTS Conclusion The Mother-Daughter Relationship: Internal Factors External Factors Introduction: From five to two 2 Haight-Angelo
  3. 3. STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS Haight-Angelo 3  Original paper titled, “Mamma Mia! Maternal Relationships in Five Short Stories.”  Focused on:  Internal Factors:  Child development stages  Gender roles  Familial relationships  External Factors:  Author intent  Cultural factors Story list: • Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing”; • Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds”; • Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”; • Flannery O’Connor, “Everything That Rises Must Converge”; • Grace Paley’s “A Conversation With My Father”.
  4. 4. MULTICULTURALISM & THE SHORT STORY Haight-Angelo 4 Left: A screenshot from the film version of Alice Walker’s short story, “Everyday Use”; right: Amy Tan’s short story, “Two Kinds” is part of a larger novel, The Joy Luck Club; the poster for the movie version is shown here.
  5. 5. MIDDLE CHILDHOOD Part of Erik Erikson’s eight stages of development towards “selfhood” (Frye): “Infants who have a deep bonding with their mothers become very independent at a young age. This bond also boosts their self- esteem. It is the most important part of a child’s life. Even when their lives are unstable, the bonding process enables them to be self-reliant and enjoy relationships with peers. These children are also more successful in school, especially in mathematics. Bonding creates within the child a sense of confidence and a positive attitude. This influences both attendance and achievement” (Alward). 5 Haight-Angelo
  6. 6. MAGGIE, JUNE AND MIDDLE CHILDHOOD Haight-Angelo 6 Maggie, Everyday Use”: • Maggie “knows she is not bright. Like good looks and money, quickness passed her by” (Olsen 1307). • Mama characterizes Maggie as “homely and ashamed” (Olsen 1306) when confronted with her older sister, observing her movements as those of a “lame animal” who “sidle[s] up to someone who is ignorant enough to be kind to him” (Olsen 1307). June, “Two Kinds”: • June is painfully average in terms of physical or academic abilities, and resents her mother trying to turn her into a piano prodigy, aka the next Chinese Shirley Temple: “I was so determined not to try, not to be anybody different that I learned to play only the most ear-splitting preludes, the most discordant hymns” (Tan 1225- 6). • June is angry at herself for not being a “remarkable child” (Tan 1223).
  7. 7. FROM SELF-SEEKING TEENAGER TO ADULT Stage 5 of Erikson’s developmental theory: The self-seeking teenager grapples with “‘identity versus role confusion,’” which can result in alienation from others due to “immature behavior and reasoning.” Identity is based on developing “likes and dislikes, talents and natural inclinations” and trying new things (Internet FAQ Archives). Stage 6: The young adult begins to seek “deep, meaningful, intimate relationships. Stage 7: The now-adult will begin to feel the effects of stagnation (“not changing or growing”) if s/he has not made positive connections or choices (Internet FAQ Archives). Stage 8: The adult evaluates “whether they have accomplished something with their lives and choices and whether they have contributed to the betterment of society” (Internet FAQ Archives). 7 Haight-Angelo
  8. 8. DEE’S TRANSFORMATION INTO WANGERO It is unlikely that Dee has moved beyond Erikson’s sixth stage of development. She does not yet show a maturity or awareness of her own stagnation. Dee’s self-identity is strong, though it is devoid of respect for her mother and younger sister. Though Dee rejects her family, Mama does not reject her; at the same time, she will not wait for “Miss Wangero” (Walker 1311) to come around anymore. Dee will need to “negotiate the old by casting [her] lot with the new” (Tornsey 1559) in order to grow as a person. 8 Haight-Angelo
  9. 9. MOTHER VS. DAUGHTER Carruthers: “A mother may say that she wishes her daughters happiness, yet from a daughter’s point of view – she acts quite opposite. A daughter may feel criticized for her choices, for example in education, career, boyfriends and partners.” Conversely, the mother “may feel blamed by her daughter for everything that happens with the daughter’s education, career, boyfriends and partners,” leading the two to potentially regard the same incident in opposite ways. 9 Haight-Angelo
  10. 10. MOTHER VS. DAUGHTER, CONT. Haight-Angelo 10 Carruthers on maternal abandonment: “Few parents intend to abandon, abuse, or neglect their children. Most mothers have good intentions and nurture and protect their children through childhood.” At the same time, “Mothers may advise their daughters to be realistic by preparing for unfulfilling lives.” Carruthers on identity: “The daughter may fight to establish and protect her own identity – or the daughter may lose identity and identify with her mother … Most daughters want assurance that they are loved for who they are – not for what they may do, who they may become or who they may marry. A mother may try to motivate her daughter to fulfill her own unaccomplished goals, and she may immerse herself into her daughter’s life.”
  11. 11. OTHER FAMILIAL RELATIONSHIPS Haight-Angelo 11 “Everyday Use”: • Fatherhood: Dee’s and/or Maggie’s father is never mentioned in the story. • Sibling Rivalry: Maggie serves as a placeholder for all of the things that Dee can’t, or won’t, be for her mother; Maggie regards Dee “with a mixture of envy and awe” (Walker 1306). “Two Kinds”: • Fatherhood: Though hardly a primary caregiver in the story, June’s father is a notable presence. • Sibling Rivalry: While June is an only child, she is forced into interaction with Waverly, the daughter of one of the members of her mother’s Joy Luck Club; the two “shared all the closeness of two sisters squabbling over crayons and dolls” (Tan 1226).
  12. 12. CHINESE-AMERICAN CULTURE & “TWO KINDS” Haight-Angelo 12 Amy Tan, on being placed in classroom literary canon “for all the wrong reasons”: “I don’t write to dig a hole and fill it with symbols. I don’t write stories as ethnic themes. I don’t want to represent life in general. And I certainly don’t write because I have answers.” Valerie Miner: “Tan’s special gifts are her storytelling ability and her ‘remarkable ear for dialogue and dialect, representing the choppy English of the mother and the sloppy California vernacular of a daughter with a sensitive authenticity” (Charters 1221).
  13. 13. AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE & “EVERYDAY USE” Haight-Angelo 13 Alice Walker, on how she is a “womanist,” or a Black feminist: “When I look at the people in Iran they look like kinfolk” (Charters 1305). Cowart: Dee seeks “deracination in [her] quest for personal authenticity … In her name, her clothes, her hair, her sunglasses, her patronizing speech, and her black Muslim companion, Wangero proclaims a deplorable degree of alienation from her rural origins and family” (172; 183).
  14. 14. CONCLUSION Both Walker and Tan present a realistic portrayal of motherhood, with all of its imperfections in-tact and on full display. In spite of their flaws, however, the mothers portrayed in each story are noticeably maternal; though not strictly defined by the maternal role to which they often adhere, it is difficult to imagine either woman does not love her daughter(s) in the complicated and heartbreaking and wonderful way that only a mother can love her own child. 14 Haight-Angelo
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