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Empowering the mother role: feminist redefinitions of motherhood in modern British drama
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The development of feminism in relation to the cultural institution of motherhood has long been acknowledged. Chapter two of this thesis explores the historical context of "first wave" and "second wave" feminism, thus providing the social-historical background for the plays to be examined here. The staging of motherhood in Alan's Wife (1893) and Top Girls (1982) occurs against the backdrop of English culture's long history of viewing womanhood as biological reproduction. Both plays, however, encourage a re-examination of this perception. Elizabeth Robins's and Florence Bell's Alan's Wife appeared at the end of the nineteenth century during the British suffrage movement and the rise of the New Woman. Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, performed almost ninety years later, follows the revitalized feminist interest of the 1960's and 1970's. Both plays offer striking representations of women's roles, especially women's roles as mothers, that invite the reader to question the contradictions in these roles and institutions in a manner more insistent upon women's abilities and needs. Chapter three of this thesis examines how Robins and Bell overturn Victorian assumptions defining the mother role, while chapter four focuses on Churchill's revelation of those assumptions that have come to light and have continued to be of interest in the time following the late-twentieth-century feminist effort. This thesis concludes by looking to the future. One of the assumptions of my argument is that the ideology of mothering in the historical world is reflected in these plays. The dramatic writings of Robins and Bell and Churchill recognize that from a feminist perspective the actual historical experience of motherhood can both fulfill and suffocate women. This study is an attempt to sustain a critique of the ideology of motherhood. Understanding and redefining the mother role provides hope for the future of feminist mothering in late-twentieth-century western society. This thesis adopts a framework for critiquing feminist playtexts representing motherhood. Examining the writings of fellow feminists exploring this issue continues the feminist effort to understand the challenges faced by women in the mother role.
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Gilchrist, Christine Locke (1995). Empowering the mother role: feminist redefinitions of motherhood in modern British drama. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from
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