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Motherhood and Representation: From Post World War II Freudian Figurations to Postmodernism

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  Motherhood and Representation: From Post World War II FreudianFigurations to Postmodernism E. Ann Kaplan Minnesota Review, Number 29, Fall 1987 (New Series), pp. 88-102 (Article) Published by Duke University Press For additional information about this article  Access provided by University of Zagreb, Faculty of Philosophy (8 Jul 2014 12:35 GMT) http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/mnr/summary/v029/29.kaplan.html  88  the  minnesota  review E.  Ann  Kaplan Motherhood  and Representation: From  Post  World  War   II Freudian Figurations  to  Postmodernism Freud's  contribution  in  relation  to  the  mother   is  his  discovery  of   the mother   in  the unconscious.  The  phallocentric  aspects  of   his  theories are a problem  for   feminists,  but  this  should  not  be  confused  with  a  second  problem,  namely  the  neo-Freudian  collapsing  of  the  level  of   the  social  (thehistorical  mother)  and  the  psychic  (the  mother   in  the unconscious).  Helene Deutsch's  theories  of   the woman  psychically  satisfied only  in  mothering  buttressed  images  abounding  in  fiction  and  film  of   the  saintly   angel mother-figure;  Karen  Horney's  study  of   maternal  narcissism  —  i.e.  of   the mother's  projecting  onto  the  child  her   own  unfulfilled  desires,  or   of   her  use  of   the  child  to  play  out  problems  with her   own  mother   —  was  reduced in  the  post-Freud  period  to notions  of   masculine  identity  and  penis envy inhibiting  successful  mothering.  Melanie Klein's  important  theory  of   the two  internalized  unconscious (imaginary)  mothers  arising  from  the  child's experience  at  the  breast  was  later   literalized  in  the  alternate   idealized nurturing  mother and the dominating   phallic  one  that  popular material featured.' Film  is  perhaps more  guilty  than  other   art  forms  of   literalizing  and reducing  Freudian motherhood  theory.  But  the  desire  to  confine  the  mother  within  restricted  pop-Freudian  stereotypes  is  itself   a  symptom  of   the mother's  increasing  cultural  threat  in  the post-war period.  The  1940's arguably  represent  a  transitional  phase  between  a  cultural motherhood role  that  prescribed  a  stern presence,  and  the Freudian   attentive  mother,whose  image  was  to  evoke  the  polar   opposite,  an  hysterical   phallic mother.  If   we  compare  a  film  like  Now  Voyager   (1942)  with  Hitchcock's Mamie (1964)  the change  will  be clear; significantly, however,  we  are talk- ing  about  degrees  of  difference  rather than  substantive  change. On  some levels,  Now  Voyager   and  Mamie  are  only  too  similar   in  their   representa- tions  of  mother-daughter  relations.  But  shifts  in  the  cultural  motherhood discourse resulting  from the films' different  historical contexts  and cinematic  genres  produce  significant  alterations  in  emphasis  and point  of  view. In between Now  Voyager   and  Mamie  are  the  immediate  post- World War   II  films—  The  Locket  (1946),  Secret  Beyond  the  Door   (1948),  The Snake-Pit  (1948)—  where  the  evil  mother   has  less  prominence  or   where the  stress  is  not  so  much on the  mother's  specific  damage  to  the  child's  Kaplan  89  psyche.  We  can  see  these films, however,  as  marking  the  first impact  of  women's  move  into  the  work   force  during the  war. The increased  level of   women's  threat  to  returning  veterans began  to  stimulate  a  deeper   kind of   reaction  for   which  Freud's  theories became  a  convenient  conduit. It  is  then  the  uses  of   the  newly  popularized Freudian  discourse  that I  will  analyze in  looking first  at  Now  Voyager.  I  will  argue  for   its  status as  a  text  transitional  between  a  cultural-role  focus  on  the mother   and  later  hysterical  texts  like  Hitchcock's Mamie.  Now  Voyager   arguably  still works  with  the  19th-century concept  of  the  mother   as  educator,  teacher,  purveyor   of   Christian  moral  values,  but  it  combines this  stance  with  the new  Freudian  awareness  of   oedipality  and  of   the  psychic  damage  that mothers  may  inflict.  Because  Freudian  theory  is  only  just  being  assimilated culturally,  the  text  does  not  yet  embody the  level  of   the  psychoanalytic; it  rather   uses  psychoanalysis  as  a  narrative  discourse,  as  a  means  for   pro- ducing  character-change and  explaining  mother-daughter  interaction. Generically  a   woman's  melodrama,  the text  asks  the spectator   to  iden- tify with,  and  to  appreciate, the  daughter Charlotte  Vale's  development to  maturity and  autonomy  —  her   triumphing  over her  oppressive  mother. Mamie rejects  this  cognitive-constructive  level  and rather   positions  the spectator   between identifying  with  the  heroine's  terrifying mother-related neurosis  and the  hero's  self-confident  analysis  and  mastery  of   Marine's neurosis  (a   mastery  also  of   both Marnie and  her   mother). Althoughthe  film  also  pays  lip-service  to  a popularized Freudian  discourse  in its analysis  of  the  mother's  impact  on  the  girl-child,  the  text  has  more  to  do with  a  deeper   level  of   reaction  to  the  mother   described  by  Kristeva  in Powers  of  Horror.  Generically  a thriller   of   sorts,  Marnie  speaks mainly from  the  patriarchal  position. Most  analyses  of   Now  Voyager   focus,  naturally  enough,  on the  heroine, Charlotte  Vale,  played  by  Bette  Davis. While  there are  issues  relevant  to mother-images  in  the  Bette  Davis  figure, Mrs.  Vale,  Charlotte's  mother  (acted  by  Gladys Young),  is  more  pertinent  to  my  immediate concerns since she  exemplifies  the  negative (possessive,  controlling) pole  of  the  split- mother   in  the  popularized  Freudian  discourse  of  the  time.  Charlotte  herself  comes  to  embody  the other    positive  mother-pole  in her self-denying nurturing  of   her  lover's  child,  Tina.  In  this  way,  the  film  sets  up themother-duality (phallic/angelic)  of   Freudian  theory  that  was  not  evident in  earlier films. In  the first  part,  the  text  (relying  on  psychoanalysis  as  a  discourse)  presents as   true  the notion  of  the  possessive  mother   as  unmediated  cause of   her   daughter,  Charlotte's,  mental  illness.  The representation  of   Mrs. Vale  in  the  opening  sequence mimicks  one  of   Karen  Horney's masculine mothers,  suffering  from  penis  envy  and  an  unconscious  over-attachment to  her   daughter.  Her   figure  is  harsh,  rigid,  severe;  her   hair   is  scraped back  from  her  face, highlighting  the  long  thin  nose  and  high  cheekbones,  while her   dress  is  pulled  tightly up  to the  neck.  Her   loud, dominating  voice  with  90  the  minnesota  review its  sharp,  clipped  tone  seals  the  image  of   a  non-nurturing,  unyielding mother-figure,  far   from  the  idealized  patriarchal  feminine. The  confrontation  with  the  psychiatrist,  Dr.  Jaquith  (one  of   a  long line  of   such  Hollywood  figures  to  follow),2  who  has been  called  in  by her  sister-in-law  to  help  Charlotte,  merely  authorizes  the   reading of   Mrs. Vale  for   the spectator:  Jaquith  quickly  makes  a  bond  with  Charlotte  and turns  his   medical  gaze  onto  Mrs.  Vale  as  well;  only  now  this  gaze  is thoroughly  negative:   If   you  had  deliberately  and  maliciously  planned to  destroy  your   daughter's  life,  you  couldn't  have  done  it  more  complete- ly,  he tells  her. This  statement supports  images  provided  the  spectator  in  a flashback   sequence  to a ship-board romance  Charlotte  had  when  on vacation with  her   mother.  Mrs.  Vale's  icy  manner and  unrelenting demands on  Charlotte  climax  in  her   brutal  severing of  Charlotte's affair   with  a  petty officer. Unlike  Charlotte,  Mrs.  Vale  refuses  to surrender to  Dr.  Jaquith  and to  accept  his  power   to  help  and  cure her   daughter. For   this  refusal,  she must  be  punished,  just  as,  in  a  parallel  move,  Charlotte  will  flourish  because  of   her  submission  to  Dr.  Jaquith,  her   entry  into  the  (repressed) erotic  relationship  that  will  act  as  a  lever   to  pry her   from  her   mother.  It is  only  through  the  text's  dehumanization  of  Mrs.  Vale  —  its  refusal  of  anysympathy or   sensitivity  to  her subjectivity, her unconscious, her  history/memory—  that  the  text  makes  possible  Charlotte's   freedom. The text  insists  on the central relationships  being  those  of   Charlotte  andthe  surrogate  Fathers  (the  psychiatrist,  the  lovers);  only by  punishing  Mrs. Vale  sadistically,  and  forcing  the spectator to hate her,  can  the narrative  pry  Charlotte  and  her   mother   apart,  sever   the  mother-daughter   bonding. As  in  Freud's  famous  case  history  of   Dora,  the  mother   becomes  notan  entity  to  be  worked  through  in  the   proper  psychoanalytic  sense,  but rather   a  figure  in  the  background  who  is  dismissed  as  an  object,  position- ed as  an  obstacle  that  must  be  gotten  around  rather   than  as  part  of  a  cen- tral  and  dual  relationship. Here  we see  how  psychoanalysis  is  used  as  a  discourse  to  repress  anyfeminine  that  refuses  to submit to  patriarchal  law.  For,  reading againstthe  grain  of   the  film,  we  could  say  that  Mrs.  Vale's oppressive  behavior  arises,  in  the  first  place,  from  her   own oppressive  positioning  in  patriar- chy.  In  accord  with  Monique  Plaza's  analysis, her   possessiveness  could  be  seen  as  her only  way  of   getting something  for   herself;  her   distaste  for  the  patriarchal  feminine  (and her   desire  to  keep  Charlotte  away  from  it), may  have  legitimacy  given  Mrs. Vale's  possible  knowledge  of   its  oppressive function.3 The  text  itself,  however,  cannot  see  Mrs.  Vale's  behavior   in this  manner,  and  is  not  interested  in  its  srcins.  It  is  precisely  such con- straints  that  enable  us  to  see  the force  of   patriarchal  law, even  in  films made  for   the  female  spectator   and  focussing  on  women's  issues. To  this  extent,  Now  Voyager   would  seem  to  address the popularized Freudian  type  of   mother.  Mrs. Vale's  possessive,  controlling behavior 
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