Radical Motherhood: Narcissism and Empathy in Russell Banks's The Darling and Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document

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    This article discusses constructions and representations of motherhood in Russell Banks's The Darling and Dana Spiotta's Eat the Document. It argues that the theme of motherhood has a long, if often overlooked, presence in American literature, and that the two novelists use the figure of the mother in order to engage with the themes of empathy and community. The novels participate in familiar postmodernist practices, such as multiple, fragmented viewpoints and narratives, unreliable narrators, non-chronological storytelling and the mingling of fact and fiction. However, they do not wholeheartedly embrace two key postmodern issues: irony and loss of affect. Instead, they seek to move away from some of the postmodern novel's more excessive decathecting tendencies, and they achieve that through their representations of mothers who, in not acquiescing to society's norms, challenge gender roles and cultural assumptions. The two fictional mothers under discussion share a past as Weather Underground activists, and in giving voice to them and refusing to demonize them as "bad" mothers, their creators also seek to expose other American narratives that reinforce dominant ideology and suppress the margins.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)657-673
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal of American Studies
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2010

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