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The Blurring Effect: An Exploration of Maternal Instinct and Ambivalence

Henderson, Sarah (2018) The Blurring Effect: An Exploration of Maternal Instinct and Ambivalence. Master of Arts by Research (MARes) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:66794)

Language: English
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In this thesis I develop a theory of maternal instinct and ambivalence, exploring pregnancy and early motherhood from the point of experience, stripping back prescriptive assumptions concerning motherhood and shifting the focus of attention onto texts by women who have empirical understanding of the subject. What becomes evident from my chosen texts is a more masked and subversive narrative portraying motherhood in intersubjective and ambivalent terms. By that I mean in pregnancy and early motherhood the mother's sensation of what it is to be autonomous is disrupted. She experiences a blurring of subject (mother) and object (infant): the two are neither unified nor separate but something in between. I argue this blurring effect is maternal instinct, which highlights a web of complexities for the mother concerning her autonomy and her attachment to the baby. As a result, I conclude that this destabilizing of autonomy may lead to a sense of ambivalence. Thus, to assume co-parenting is the panacea for female progress is an oversimplification: there is a conflict going on within the mother that transcends external forces. Furthermore, this study exposes a lack of honesty by women surrounding the subject of motherhood, as ambivalence is rarely revealed by women in the public sphere for fear of retribution of being considered a bad or unnatural mother, an accusation directed at Rachel Cusk following the publication of her memoir. As a result, by charting the course of history of maternal instinct through both fictional and theoretical literature, redefining it according to the voice of the mother, the final objective of this thesis is to act as a point of departure for further investigation into what it means to be a mother both in the home and work place in 21st century western civilization.

Using the work of Elisabeth Badinter and Simone de Beauvoir as my guiding principle, I draw upon Plato and Rousseau in particular, who pave the way to explore motherhood through contemporary female writers. With the aid of Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work on Becoming a Mother (2008) and Iris Marion Young's essay 'Pregnant Embodiment: Subjectivity and Alienation' (2005), which draws upon phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty to form the foundation of its argument, I explore the sense of blurring of identity of which both Cusk and Young write. Finally, Sarah Moss' novel Night Waking (2012) shifts the focus from looking inward, turning its attention on motherhood in relation to self, the exterior world and ambivalence. Moss uses psychology as her framework and I draw upon Sarah LaChance Adams' text, Mad Mothers, Bad Mothers & What A "Good" Mother Would Do (2014) and Rozsika Parker's, Torn in Two: The Experience of Maternal Ambivalence (1995), to explore attachment theory, highlighting that the experience of maternal intersubjectivity may affect how a mother copes with separation and unification with her child.

Item Type: Thesis (Master of Arts by Research (MARes))
Thesis advisor: Mildenberg, Ariane
Thesis advisor: Parkins, Wendy
Uncontrolled keywords: Motherhood Ambivalence Instinct Maternal
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2018 09:10 UTC
Last Modified: 08 Dec 2022 15:20 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Henderson, Sarah.

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