Title

Mentioning the Mothers: Representations of Motherhood as Taught to Eleventh Grade English Students in Texas Through the Study of Dramatic Literature

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Theatre

Date of Award

Summer 2013

Abstract

The in-depth study of American dramatic literature in eleventh grade Texas English classes proves integral in developing students' abilities to readily appreciate different enactments of roles in twenty-first century American families. This study analyzes the portrayal of the mother characters in two of the most commonly taught pieces of dramatic literature to Texas junior-level high school students: The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Inspired by Deborah Appleman's findings encouraging the use of an appropriate critical lens when analyzing literature for the high school classroom, the current literary analysis examines the mother characters in these mid-twentieth century texts through the broad framework of feminist theory. Using multiple feminist scholars' perspectives allows for the examination of historical, economic, and social intricacies affecting the characters, while interrogating gendered stereotypes in the plays. The findings of this study, therefore, highlight the messages communicated about motherhood to Texas eleventh grade English students as a result of the curricular inclusion of The Glass Menagerie and Death of a Salesman. The results of the study reveal that both characters offer representations of gendered stereotypes. In Williams' The Glass Menagerie, Amanda Wingfield reflects qualities of 'the domineering mother,' such as manipulating and clinging to her children. In Miller's Death of a Salesman, Linda Loman manifests as 'the quintessential housewife' in her subservient behavior and lack of personal agency. Yet when historically and socially contextualized, the characters prove multi-dimensional and communicate additional, more complex messages about motherhood to twenty-first century high school students as well. As Amanda Wingfield negotiates her position as a single mother, struggling against patriarchal confines and challenging economic circumstances, she proves a protective and self-sacrificing mother who loves her children. Linda Loman steps out of her stereotype to reveal a mother who stands up to her sons, refusing to perpetuate unrealistic expectations of women's physicality, and encourages kindness through the care she exhibits to her family. Thus, this thesis argues that when fully analyzed, these representations offer complex messages about motherhood that can broaden students' understanding of the role of the mother in American society.

Advisor

Carrie Klypchak

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Theatre and Performance Studies

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