By Mary McCartin Wearn
Returning to a foundational second within the historical past of the yankee kinfolk, Negotiating Motherhood in Nineteenth-Century American Literature explores how numerous authors of the interval represented the maternal function – an workplace that got here to a brand new, social prominence on the finish of the eighteenth century. by way of interpreting maternal figures within the works of various authors corresponding to Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Jacobs, and Sarah Piatt, this e-book exposes the contentious yet fruitful negotiations that happened within the center of the yank sentimental period – negotiations concerning the cultural meanings of relations, womanhood, and motherhood. This publication, then, demanding situations serious structures that determine American sentimentalism as a coherent, monolithic venture, tied strictly to the forces of cultural conservatism. moreover, via exploring nineteenth-century demanding situations to standard maternal ideology and through exposing gaps within the mythology of ''ideal'' motherhood, Negotiating Motherhood demonstrates that the icon of an American Madonna – a determine that also haunts America’s mind's eye – by no means had an uncontested reign. Transcending the bounds of literary feedback, this paintings should be necessary to feminist students and to people who have an interest within the heritage of women’s tradition, the yank mythology of relations existence, or the cultural development of motherhood.
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How many miles could you make in those few brief hours, with the darling at your bosom,—the little sleepy head on your shoulder,—the small, soft arms trustingly holding on to your neck? (43–44). Stowe thus garners sympathy for Eliza Harris by appealing to her audience through the “natural” maternal instinct to protect children. Stowe goes even further with her direct address approach, requiring her audience, as Warhol argues, to “transfer their emotional response from the characters” in the novel to “actual slaves” (41).
Contradicting her husband’s claim that the Fugitive Slave Act is good policy, Mrs. Bird challenges him to move beyond masculine “reason” and embrace the true convictions of his own heart: I hate reasoning John,—especially reasoning on such subjects. There’s a way you political folks have of coming round and round a plain right thing; and you don’t believe in it yourselves, when it comes to practice. I know you well enough John. You don’t believe it’s right any more than I do. (70) Stowe here suggests an alternative politics where a practical, affective (and essentially maternal) sympathy take precedent over any theoretical policy.
Like the character of Eliza Harris, this disparate community of likeminded women serves a didactic function for Stowe’s middle-class reader, dramatizing how “good” mothers should feel and act, regardless of economic or social status. Engaging the cultural mechanisms of nineteenthcentury maternal ideology, Stowe naturalizes a specific, motherly morality, imagining these women from diverse backgrounds as native defenders of the oppressed or, more specifically, the slave. Perhaps most importantly, Stowe authorizes the mothers’ public acts of civil disobedience—their break with existing social and legal codes—via the Christian/maternal ethics that they 24 Negotiating Motherhood in Nineteenth-Century American Literature share.