Mothers

In Djebar’s film, the main character has a line about who it was who told her the stories (I can’t remember exactly what she was talking about), and she wonders if it was her mother. She then goes on to say that all of these women are her mother. This broad application of family ties to women who are not related to her (this raises questions of kinship and its relation to biological roles) was fascinating in its own context. What made it even more fascinating was how often it was repeated in the readings for Tuesday.

The first instance is the speaker’s assertion in Looking for Zora that she is Hurston’s niece. This familial connection, regardless of truth, provides an instant connection between the two women that is not doubted. Perhaps this could be accomplished by saying she was a family friend, but the implication of kinship creates a stronger bond. However, this also seems to imply an universal kinship between all women, in this case, between all black women–“By this time I am, of course, completely into being Zora’s niece, and the lie comes with perfect naturalness to my lips. Besides, as far as I’m concerned, she is my aunt–and that of all black people as well” (102). This idea of universal kinship is reiterated in Dr. Benton’s refusal to accept the fact that she’s illegitimate–“All of us are God’s children! Don’t you even think such a thing!” (110)

This is also present in “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.” The answer to the question of who the Saints were, “these crazy, loony, pitiful women,” is “some of them, without a doubt, were our mothers and grandmothers” (232). It’s not enough for these women to be friends or neighbors or strangers–they must be our mothers and grandmothers, women with whom the audience share biological as well as social ties. The essay ends with “Perhaps Phillis Wheatley’s mother was also an artist. Perhaps in more than Phillis Wheatley’s biological life is her mother’s signature made clear” (243). After reading these pieces, I began to question whether mother/grandmother was meant literally or used for rhetorical purposes. Does it matter if these women are actually our mothers as long as we feel like they are? The last line of the piece seems to suggest otherwise with its reference to biology but everything else seems to argue that mothers in this argument are more than just the women who gave birth to us.

The Cixous reading was a little harder for me to grasp, but it too had mentions of the mother, especially in a broader, metaphorical context within the passage on Woman for women on pp. 881-882. In any case, the recurrence of the maternal figure within the context of cultural production (writing, singing, drawing, etc.) yields some sort of significance to the figure. Why else would each piece discuss it? Every woman (and man) has a mother. Many women become mothers themselves. Within this, there’s an idea of continuity and precedence, taking from a communal history and building upon it. In the pieces discussed, this has been strictly a female event, but I think parallels can be made for men as well. The idea of the human race as a large family (present in the Gandhi readings) seems very necessary to the idea of knowledge and its production–who creates it, who passes it on, who gets it? Because of the broad audience of many forms of (cultural) knowledge–books and art and music are often experienced by people far removed from the creator–its consumption and reproduction brings people together and forms a new sort of family.

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2 thoughts on “Mothers

  1. I love your point about universal kinship in “Looking for Zora”. I just wonder to what extent we can apply that universality. Like you said, there seems to be an implication of universal kinship/solidarity among Black women as opposed to all women. And furthermore, Dr. Benton expands the universal kinship to include men as well. What are all these different types of solidarity and universal kinship? Are there varying levels of intimacy or legitimacy for solidarity amongst women, Blacks, etc.?

  2. I also found interesting that Walker credits her mother and her heritage in general for her appreciation of art. She cites her heritage of the love of beauty and respect for strength as the guide for the search of her mother’s garden, and as a result, her own. Keeping this in mind, I wonder if a universal kinship can be read as an appreciation for the inherent creativity and strength of humanity, and then taken at different levels of intimacy or legitimacy for women, black women, etc. In other words- the universality lies in the need for creativity, something that both Woolf and Walker cite as an innate and necessary entity, and then characterized by its expression through different kinship structures.

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