Maternal Critical Theory: Reading to Change the World

By Charlyn Marie Ingwerson

This article introduces readers to Maternal Critical Theory, a critical approach to literature that draws from maternal practices upon which all life has always depended. The first two sections establish context, vocabularies, and interpretive frameworks from which Maternal Critical Theory is derived. The third section describes the ‘three distinctive attributes’ of Maternal Critical Theory; and the fourth section offers an interpretive reading of Israeli writer Ronit Matalon through a Maternal Critical lens.

Maternal Critical Theory invites readers into fresh encounters with characters, women writers, and other Maternal Critical readers, and offers an approach for rereading narratives that have focused on the violence of power, missing the authority of maternal resistance. Too often, not having a method for retrieving these characters, we have missed them.

Introduction to a Paradigm Shift

My title is drawn from critic Patrocinio Schweickart who writes that the feminist goal of interpreting literature is to “change the world” (“Reading Ourselves” 39). Indeed, shifts in cultural perspective have always been accompanied by critical activity in literature. To that end, this essay introduces Maternal Critical Theory. 

What is the shift in cultural perspective for which I advocate? Let me begin with why a shift is called for. It goes without saying that we live within systems that perpetuate aggression and violence, valorize the wish for power, and justify the use of force to control others—systems about which classicist Mary Beard observes, “Western culture has had thousands of years of practice” (xi, Women and Power). Power-seeking systems are authoritarian—and broadly, we have recognized them as androcentric, patriarchal. These centuries of androcentric systems, observes Schweickart, are “deeply etched in the strategies and modes of thought that have been introjected by all readers, women as well as men” (“Reading Ourselves” 50). To be clear, the opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy—that would simply be another kind of hierarchal authoritarianism. The opposite of authoritarian violence is maternal authority—recognizing the universal human responsibility to preserve, nurture, and respect individual conscience. To read, to critically interpret, using a lens that recognizes this dynamic counterpoint to authoritarianism destabilizes the centricity of the patriarchal myth and readers participate in a cultural shift toward maternal authority. 

What do I mean by ‘maternal authority’? When a person responds to another out of a recognition of shared vulnerability, that one is acting with authority, resisting systems that exploit vulnerability. When that response attends to three goals: to 1) preserve, 2) nurture, and 3) respect individual conscience—philosopher Sara Ruddick defines these as goals of mothering (I will expound upon this later in the essay, however, it is important to note that ‘mothering’ is used here as a verb, ‘to mother’)—that response becomes, by definition, maternal authority. To explicate further, I offer a point-by-point contrast of what positions of authority and authoritarianism connote:

  • Authority acknowledges both universal human vulnerability and the human impulse to resist exploitation. 
  • Authoritarianism employs classifications of weak/victim and power/hero to underwrite the emergence of a ‘strongman.’ 
  • Authority is material, focused on the body as the locus of virtuous action. Authoritarianism employs symbolism/abstraction to valorize the death of the body as ‘glory.’ Or, to put this another way:
  • Authority attends to the suffering of others (Simone Weil’s definition of love as the act of paying attention). 
  • Authoritarian patriarchy focuses on feats of ‘the hero.’
  • Authority creates dynamic inclusive horizontal systems that recognize imbalances of power and value difference. 
  • Authoritarianism requires exclusion to construct vertical hierarchies where some must be exploited to underwrite the privileges of others. 
  • Authority is earned through its attention to vulnerability. 
  • Authoritarianism assumes power by force. 
  • Authority accepts responsibility for oneself and others in community, acknowledging and respecting the uniqueness/autonomy of the other. 
  • Authoritarianism seeks to control others, denying others their agency, while also denying personal responsibility for others. 
  • Finally, maternal authority prioritizes care for the physical person over abstract dogmatic positions. 

Authoritarian systems prioritize dogma over the physical body. 

The contrasting orientations and objectives of authoritarian patriarchy and maternal authority can hardly be overstated; but a further contrast needs parsing: the patriarchal narrative of motherhood is not term equivalent to maternal authority. 

Maternal authority describes the work of all people who mother; the patriarchal construct of motherhood is a myth that: demands the sacrifice of the woman-as-mother and children, serves the purposes of patriarchal militarism (Ruddick 156-7), uses the vulnerable person as a means to its own ends, and co-opts the woman-as-mother without recognizing her authority.

Ruddick writes, “the [patriarchal] ideology of motherhood is oppressive to women. It defines maternal work as a consuming identity requiring sacrifices of health, pleasure, and ambitions unnecessary for the well-being of children” (Maternal Thinking 29, italics original in the text). More than an ideological ideal, the patriarchal construct of motherhood is essential to the narratives that underwrite systemic authoritarian violence.

Deriving Maternal Authority 

Maternal authority, then, distinguishes between ‘myths of motherhood’ and ‘mothering,’ understood as an action verb: ‘to mother.’ The action or work of mothering responds to vulnerable demands for preservation, nurture, and social acceptance. Mothering-as-a-verb decenters the idealized ‘woman-as-mother’ myth that serves authoritarian systems. 

Andrea O’Reilly, whose scholarship in Motherhood Studies is widely acknowledged, writes: 

Ruddick was the first scholar to examine the experience of mothering, as opposed to the institution of motherhood, and to develop a theoretical framework and vocabulary for this analysis. In defining mothering as a practice, Ruddick enabled future scholars to analyze the experience and work or practice of mothering as distinct from the identity of the mother. (296) 

‘Mothering as a practice’ represents a significant shift. Ruddick writes that her “conception of mothering as a kind of caring labor undermines the myth that mothers are ‘naturally’ loving” (1995 “Preface” Maternal Thinking xi). Indeed, Ruddick denies that mothers are ‘naturally’ anything—rather, she asserts, mothering is a discipline defined by attention. Further, observes O’Reilly:

Ruddick, in repositioning the word ‘mother’ from a noun to a verb, degenders motherwork. More specifically, divesting care of biology, Ruddick enabled scholars to destabilize patriarchal motherhood by dislodging the gender essentialism that grounds and structures it. (O’Reilly, Andrea 297)   

Clearly, then, many persons who identify as ‘fathers’ mother. It is beyond the scope of this work to theorize the ways in which fathering responds to the demands of vulnerability; however, I can say that when it responds to preserve, nurture, and develop conscience, it is a particular kind of maternal authority. 

Here, it is easy to discern some discomfort with the term ‘maternal;’ and, given this uneasiness, why do I insist on the term? Why call my critical approach to literature ‘maternal’? The term is significant because it throws into relief how the term has been stripped of its authority, discounting the thinking that derives from its woman-associated practices. Indeed, the term ‘maternal’ has been used derisively because of its womanly associations, and in a recent paper, Schweickart makes two points that underpin the use of a term so intrinsically connected to “femininity,” observing first: 

Androcentricity does not just mean the exclusion and denigration of women, but also the exclusion and denigration of themes, qualities, activities and concerns associated with femininity. The latter can persist even after women are no longer excluded. This is especially true of theory. [Second], women and the associated features of life overlooked by theory remain potent in reality—they represent a counter-discourse that has always accompanied the dominant theoretical discourses. (Schweickart, “Reading Gender in the Interstices of Theory,” 1) 

Maternal Critical Theory, a woman-oriented discourse that has emerged from practices of mother-work (i.e., the work of mothering defined by goals of preservation, nurture, and respect for conscience) and has accompanied the lived experience of every human being, names this ‘counter-discourse’ and critiques the assumption of a masculine universal.

Frankly, a little discomfort with the term ‘maternal’ is the point! To suggest that a “maternal imagination” is a human attribute neither subtracts from the fact of women-as-mothers, nor erases the fact of men. Rather, it is an inclusive invitation into disciplines that derive from woman-associated practices. Since literature and critical activity in literature are vital to shifts in cultural perspective, we need Maternal Critical Theory. 

Maternal Critical Theory: Three Distinctive Attributes

A Maternal Critical approach reveals characters who mother, who recognize the demands of vulnerability and respond: preserving, nurturing, and respecting conscience, practices that resist violence. The first distinction of Maternal Critical Theory is the goal of a reciprocal encounter. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum asserts that literature is critical to developing “the capacity for ‘positional thinking’ . . . [or] the ability to see the world from the other’s viewpoint” (Not for Profit 36). The other side of the coin is a reader’s unfolding ability to see her or himself realistically, to recognize oneself as a member of this universal vulnerable human tribe. 

Post-colonial theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak also emphasizes the priority of an encounter with the ‘other’ character in literature, of acknowledging difference without presuming to know ‘the’ difference. Spivak writes she is “convinced” (“Preface” xxiii) literature is a place where readers and characters can meet in “ethical singularity” (“Preface” Imaginary Maps xxv), a one-to-one engagement, where the intersection of ‘ethical’ and ‘singular’ is crucial because the notion of an ethical encounter cannot be applied in any general way. 

In other words, one cannot interpret ethically except in the surprising context of the particular relational encounter. Here, I suggest a contrast between the ‘fixed rules’ of an authoritarian approach to literature on the one hand, and the priority of the particular character as encountered by the Maternal Critical reader on the other. I suggest where authoritarian approaches have severed ‘high’ thinking from the body (of the character and the Reader), Maternal Criticism reconnects ‘the severed head’ (to borrow from Iris Murdoch), making connections between readers and characters, readers and writers, and readers to other readers possible.

Spivak writes, “we all know that when we engage profoundly with one person, the responses come from both sides: this is responsibility and accountability” (“Preface” xxv). She continues: 

We also know that in such engagements we want to reveal and reveal, conceal nothing. Yet on both sides, there is always a sense that something has not got across. This we call the ‘secret,’ not something that one wants to conceal, but something that one wants to reveal. In this sense, the effort of ‘ethical singularity’ may be called a ‘secret encounter.’ (“Preface” Imaginary Maps xxv) 

“In this secret singularity,” she adds, “the object of ethical action is not an object of benevolence, for here responses flow from both sides” (“Preface” Imaginary Maps xxv). Spivak speaks of a small but profound understanding between reader and character that includes private mysteries, things neither the reader nor the character quite grasp, where the object of love is “the ungraspable other” (Spivak, “Afterword” Imaginary Maps 200). Indeed, writes Spivak, ‘this understanding’ developed through attention to characters “only sharpens the sense of the crucial and continuing need for collective political struggle” (“Preface” Imaginary Maps xxv).

I have built on both Nussbaum and Ruddick for the second distinction of Maternal Critical Theory: recognizing resistance in vulnerability locates maternal authority.

Nussbaum is right to admit that authoritarians, too, can recognize vulnerability and use that recognition in sadistic ways (Not for Profit, 36); however, when vulnerability is understood as a set of demands, as Ruddick asserts: demands for preservation, nurture, and social acceptability, Maternal Critical readers can see what authoritarians always miscalculate: resistance. 

Nussbaum observes how confronting the fragility of human existence, can work as a “moral danger:” 

Human beings have a level of physical helplessness unknown elsewhere in the animal kingdom—combined with a very high level of cognitive sophistication . . . Understanding what the ‘clash within’ is all about requires thinking about this strange sui generis narrative: about human beings’ strange combination of competence with helplessness; our problematic relationship to helplessness, mortality, and finitude; our persistent desire to transcend conditions that are painful for any intelligent being to accept. [. . .] this desire to transcend the shame of incompleteness leads to much instability and moral danger. (Not for Profit 30-1)

In other words, the wish ‘to transcend shame’ might be a predictor of violence. Nussbaum suggests encounters in literature as means of transforming shame, a transformation that occurs through recognizing vulnerability as the universal human condition. Still, one might ask, ‘what if this recognition does not occur?’ or, ‘what if the recognition is repugnant?’ I suggest attention to vulnerability will be unsustainable without a framework for recognizing vulnerability as a position of agency that makes demands. Maternal Critical Theory offers a critical framework that recognizes the demands for preservation, nurture, and social acceptance that characterize both readers and characters. 

Attention to vulnerability will fall short of the full human picture unless it also recognizes the quality of resistance in vulnerability. In failing to see resistance, a reader may reduce vulnerability to victimhood, and this where I suggest the ‘moral danger’ and its attendant violence lies. Violence as a response is more likely when readers fail to recognize vulnerability’s demands and the authority of a maternal response. A further pernicious reaction to reading victimization valorizes the wish for a ‘strongman,’ a wish that makes space for despotic authoritarian violence. A Maternal Critical reading mitigates the potential for both failures, locating the response of maternal authority, resisting (dominant) readings that justify violence. 

To be clear, maternal authority is not ‘other’ from vulnerability, rather it acts from a place of vulnerability, initiating, participating, and sharing in the struggle for preservation, growth, and social acceptance. The maternal position is vulnerable—and this distinguishes it from authoritarian posturing that removes itself from vulnerability to valorize deliverance or escape from struggle. In an imperfect world, which is to say, our world, equity is a struggle. To develop a maternal self is to develop a connected self that responds to the demands of vulnerability with attentive love in encounters that extend beyond the character, to the woman writer, to other readers, and to communities in a struggle for human rights from which characters and readers have emerged.

This is the third distinction of Maternal Critical Theory: it is situated in feminist discourses that build inclusive communities and make peace. The maternal self is a connected self, attentive to encounters that extend beyond the character. This is the change the world aspect: recognizing maternal authority in others is a premise for discourses that build peaceful communities. 

In a recent interview, African American writer Ta-Nehisi Coates said: “there is an overriding narrative [in the US], regrettably . . . that we don’t have the same kind of family values that other people do, that we don’t want the best for our children the way other people do.” He adds that history, of course, does not bear this out. Then he says: 

I think it’s really, really important for folks who have political goals to remember that if people don’t regard you as human, political goals become impossible. And for me, a key part of being human is the basic desire for one’s family to be prosperous.

What Maternal Critics hear him saying is this: not recognizing maternal authority in others is a way of diminishing their humanness. To recognize maternal authority as a human capacity and shared responsibility is a premise for solidarity with others situated in communities that are not one’s own. In the next section, I offer an excerpt of a Maternal Critical reading of Israeli writer Ronit Matalon’s novel, The Sound of Our Steps.

Reading Ronit Matalon Through the Lens of Maternal Critical Theory 

This Maternal Critical reading of Ronit Matalon’s 2008 novel, The Sound of Our Steps, locates the single mother—Had horit, ‘single parent, feminine adjective’—anthropologist Smadar Lavie notes, however, the “term is loaded with meaning beyond the dictionary definition” (25). In its usage, the term connotes “deviance” (36)—a mother who has not played by the rules. Not a ‘good’ mother. The condescending expression is Had horit, du raglit, “single mother, bipedal” like a two-legged animal (Lavie 35). There is another layer of ‘otherness’ to this single mother’s exclusion: she is an immigrant, not by choice but as a result of the expulsion of the Jewish community from Cairo after 1956. In Israel, she is labeled as ethnic Mizrahi, ‘Easterners’ or ‘Orientals’ in Hebrew, “Jews with origins in the Arab and Muslim World” (Lavie 1). Lavie writes, the Mizrahim are both “the 50 percent majority of Israel’s citizens,” and they “constitute the majority of Israel’s disenfranchised” (Wrapped in the Flag 1). This is the story of ‘the mother,’ Lucette—or more to the point, it is the story of the child trying to locate Lucette’s mothering. It is a journey the reader takes with the child, and in the child narrator’s telling, “the mother” emerges as a solitary figure waging resistance against a powerfully dominant narrative of prejudiced marginalization that has labeled her incapable of maternal authority. 

Late in the evening, the mother returns from a long day’s working at more than one menial job. ‘The child’ describes listening for the sound of her steps, for the entry of the mother, “starved after long hungry hours of not-home” (2). Long hours of ‘not-home’ are hours of invisibility, of being a problem or a solution to someone else’s problem. The single mother’s struggle to manage multiple low-paying jobs to support her children may appear domestic, which is to say, non-political; but, when close-read through a Maternal Critical lens, it is clear the single mother’s struggle is not disconnected from bureaucratic systems—authoritarian systems (defined in the first section of the paper), where the plural is not to be missed: clearly, this mother’s exclusion results from intersecting hierarchies/offices designed to encumber the work of mothering—where single mothers are often seen as ‘problems,’ in other words: the mothering person is not seen. Indeed, receiving the character through this lens challenges the authoritarian problem-solution paradigm. Maternal Critics ask, “is this single mother part of a community conversation about the demands of the most vulnerable?” Is this mother part of the bureaucratic conversations about her?” The question highlights the mother’s social exclusion.

The storyteller repeatedly reminds the reader: “she was the house” (3), entering the house was reclaiming herself; when things were out of place, she was in disarray. The children sprawled on the sofa—books, clothes, empty dishes on the floor—appear oblivious to the salon’s disarray until they hear ‘the sound of her steps:’

Even before she put down her bag, she stood with it in the hallway, her eyes narrowed, jaw clenched, collecting evidence, coming up with evidence of collapse, of breakdown, of the chaos of our home’s disintegration. All the evidence confirmed it. She was the house. (2-3) [. . .]

This is what she yelled: ‘It’s the end of the world.’ (Sound of Our Steps 4)

Maternal Critical readers hear vulnerability in the utterance and acknowledge her long workday as resistance, an insistence to live, a refusal to be erased. In her approach to the house, she saw “the thirsty lawn, the shriveled rose beds. Their dryness was her parched mouth” (5). There is no one with whom she can confide her terror about the house’s preservation—her preservation, her children’s preservation; no one shares in the battle against their “collapse;” no one else feels the risk. Her struggle is also a demand for a nurturing community that sees her. The child assesses the mother: 

at the heart of her intense panic was her wounded consciousness of the fragility, the flimsiness of the home, the shack: the wood, the thin plywood walls, the materials that could be consumed [by fire] in a second. (Sound of Our Steps 31) 

No agency registers the mother’s demands for security, safety, the dignity of privacy—no notes are taken about the ‘flimsy’ temporary plywood walls that mock her ‘panic.’ ‘The shack’ is both a descriptive observation and a normative assessment of government housing and social support systems, and not the least, her own body, susceptible to injury and destruction—her skin, these walls, do not suffice.  

Lucette defies the low expectations the State has for her and her children. The ambitious physicality of her mothering invites a further contrast: authority creates—authoritarianism is utterly redundant. The child reflects:    

The room that was the living room seemed to be holding something, guarding the light that was shining on us indirectly, bringing exactly the right warmth of here and now . . . There we sat, close together, in the only space in the shack that was free of the rubble of the building site that was the shack: the mother was renovating, again, again she turned the house upside down to make it even more of a home. (Sound of Our Steps 193)

The mother tells her own story in work; mothering is not an abstraction. The work of preservation and nurture of real bodies requires physical place

Lucette’s vision for the home is a vision of herself, and implicit in the project of renovation is the imagined quality of hospitality; will this renovation result in unconditional acceptance for her and her children? The narrator reflects:

perhaps it was not the house itself that she guarded, or the household objects and their arrangement, but the idea of the house that she pored over and over dozens if not hundreds of times, tested again and again the hope, the hope of home. (Sound of Our Steps 5)

‘The idea of the house’ may be interpreted as ‘the ideal home.’ The impossible, yet media-pervasive, image of the perfect home, created by the perfect mother (or traditional family), from which perfect children emerge.

Lavie describes how, in the 1950s, a particular Zionist ideal was impressed upon “the Ashkenazi mother to strive to be the ideal mother since she was defined as the Ha-Em ha’Ivriya, ‘The Hebrew Mother’” (Lavie 49). The ideal excluded the Mizrahi mother, denoting her as Em Zara, ‘Alien Mother,’ an exclusion that was prohibitive not only because of prejudice, but also because adherence to the “Motherhood Rites” (50) were economically unaffordable for Mizrahi mothers. Matalon’s mother-character is a witness to those mothers who worked in the homes of others, who fed children not their own in daycares their children could not attend. This is the systematic exclusion she defied. 

Matalon’s mother-character may also stand as a witness to mothers who came after her, remembered in Lavie’s text, Wrapped in the Flag of Israel, an analysis of The [Mizrahi] Single Mothers’ March on Jerusalem, which began: 

on 2 July 2003 [when] Vicky Knafo, a 43-year-old single mother of three, started her march on Jerusalem wearing a black baseball cap and wrapping herself in the Israeli flag . . . her 205-kilometer pilgrimage ascended to the capital from Mitzpe Ramon, a tiny Mizrahi desert town. (Lavie 1)

Here is the context—in June 2003: 

Israel’s [National Security Bureau] mailed single mothers notices about slashing their monthly income assurances . . . the notices also informed them about the retroactive debt . . . they had incurred for the period between January, when the . . . amendment entered into law, and June, when enforcement of the law started. Distraught mothers packed the lines at the NSB and at government bureaus for rent assistance, food donations, and job placements. They had no choice, as even those mothers with jobs had little if any hope to pay their monthly expenses with this debt looming over them. (11) 

Lavie writes, “Vicky’s march started because she could no longer pay her bills” (11)—a practical, non-ideological, premise for protest. Matalon’s single mother and Vicky Knafo are not outliers: “throughout the world, single mothers of color and their children share this story of victimhood when the nation-state sacrifices their human dignity to global neo-liberal restructuring” (Lavie 18). In other words, Lavie describes authoritarian systems that prioritize dogma—in this case, economic dogma—over the physical bodies of real people.  

Though their march might have been “conceived as an act of agency” (Lavie 20)—a demand for inclusion in the social discourses about them, in just two months the shantytown of protestors was dissolved (end of August 2003). Lavie writes that while The Single Mothers’ March “is a case study that reveals the interrelationships between racialized mothering and poverty . . . interrelationships [that] exclude agency” (20), the prospect of inclusion was aborted—because writes Lavie, the Mizrahi single mother “fears that genuine intersectional resistance will weaken her homeland’s stand” (84) against its enemies. The long view of a Maternal Critical lens suggests, however, that when internal social structures fail to recognize and sustainably support mothering practices that preserve, nurture, and develop a respect for conscience, those failures also have external consequences. 

Applied Analysis and Conclusion

Where literature is the protest of the excluded, Maternal Critical readers recognize shared goals of mothering in the other as a premise for inclusive discourses that build sustainable communities. Readers who encounter the character Lucette feel the effects of her othering—of her other-mothering: Em Zara, not good enough—and her resistance to a systemic diminishing of her humanness. Matalon’s novel is a ‘loving witness’ alongside people who mother anywhere who are excluded from policy discourses about what they need to preserve, nurture, and raise children of conscience who are accepting of others in society. A rhetorical tactic that has persistently accompanied the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on both sides, has been to deny the goals of mothering in the other. 

During the second intifada, Palestinian mothers relied on Ruddick’s claim [that “maternal practices are governed by ‘the three interests of preservation, growth, and acceptability of the child’” (Ruddick qtd. in Johnson and Kuttab 37)] as a shared premise from which to “counter allegations that Palestinian mothers are sending their children to die at the checkpoints” (Johnson and Kuttab 38), and to further explain how “these [mothering] interests can be in painful contradiction” (Johnson and Kuttab 37) in the context of occupation and, in particular, the violence of the intifada:

In a 29 October 2000 ‘Appeal for the Protection of Palestinian Children,’ issued by the women’s movement, Palestinian mothers living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza addressed their ‘most urgent concern—the protection of our children and their right to live a life free of fear, harm and humiliation. (Women’s Affairs Technical Committee, 2000, qtd. in Johnson and Kuttab 38) 

Their statement clearly demonstrates both the relevance of this applied criticism to the Palestinian context but also, and more importantly for the purposes of this article, how recognizing these goals in others underpins discourses that work toward equity. Where denial of maternal authority in others underwrites violence, recognition is a premise upon which to begin to build community. Reading the literatures of the other, and other women writers, through a Maternal Critical lens is a good place to begin. 

That is the first conclusion.

There is a further reason why these discourses are timely. Israeli novelist Shulamith Hareven “expressed her worry—as early as 1974—about the paternalistic norm of contemporary political leaders . . .  Their ‘big daddy’ image conditions the sons, she argued, to be dependent and to shirk personal responsibility” (Feldman 161-2). Her concern is at least as relevant today as it was then. She adds:

Every totalitarian regime knows how to confront our preadult persona with the mythic world, so that we will feel like children with a great savior, a redeeming father: he decides, he is the strong man, we have no responsibility for our actions whatsoever. (Shualmith Hareven qtd. in Feldman 166)

In Hareven’s speech, it is easy to see how authoritarian mythmaking ultimately demands the mother’s erasure: only ‘the strong father’ and children remain. To erase the mother is to forget maternal authority, reducing the landscape to the powerful and the helpless. 

Recognizing the fact of the human condition of dependence and the mothering practices upon which all depend, and for which all are responsible is resistance. This might be close to what Mary Beard was reflecting on when she wrote: “What we need is some old-fashioned consciousness-raising about what we mean by the ‘voice of authority’ and how we’ve come to construct it” (Beard 45). Just as critical practices in literature have always accompanied shifts in social perspective that work toward structural change, Maternal Critical Theory, grounded in the earned authority of attention, is part of this work of recognition, of ‘consciousness-raising,’ 

This introduction to Maternal Critical Theory is an invitation into a critical activity that draws from the maternal practices upon which all life has always depended. It is a further invitation to extend this activity to a rereading of narratives that have focused on the violence of power, missing the authority of the maternal response, of maternal resistance. Too often, not having a method for retrieving these characters, we have missed them.

Works Cited

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