FLANNERY O'CONNOR, TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, AND SHIRLEY JACKSON: CRAFTING POSTWAR MATERNITY AS CULTURAL NIGHTMARE
Evans, Lynne Ann
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This dissertation argues that Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, and Shirley Jackson all employ gothic representations of maternity, what Madelon Sprengnether calls “the spectral mother,” in their gothic works. Through this figure, each author challenges normative concepts of motherhood in the period following World War II, specifically by using the “spectral mother” to analyze critically different psychoanalytic schools of thought. In Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away, respectively, O’Connor employs Freudian and Jungian conceptions of maternity in order to critique the theological efficacy of psychoanalytic definitions of motherhood, highlighting the psychoanalytically crafted mother as a site of spiritual annihilation. Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Suddenly Last Summer, and Kingdom of Earth emphasize how the Kleinian mother, which attempts to enforce normative gender and sexual roles, actually encodes psychoanalytic discourse with its own non-normative undoing. While Kleinian-inspired maternity opens up a space for queerness, Williams’ plays reveal that motherhood as imagined by Klein renders subjectivity, for mother and son, an impossibility. Jackson’s The Bird’s Nest and The Haunting of Hill House reveal that the sexualized maternal figure of Freudian theory, far from describing “normal” psychological development, is instead an origin of filial and maternal psychosis. Crafted as enactments of psychoanalytic discourse, the spectral mothers in O’Connor’s, Williams’, and Jackson’s narratives reflect upon the monstrous underpinning of a Freudian and post-Freudian world.