Shelby Hennessy is a mother of two, a teacher, and a writer. She identifies as a mother-scholar and focuses her writing on the depictions of mothers/motherhood within literature. In particular, she tends to focus on single motherhood and/or unconventional motherhood (which falls outside of the nuclear family unit) within a contemporary lens. She also does a lot of comparative work in relation to rape and sexual trauma. She is a recent graduate from USF of Tampa, earning her Master’s in May 2022 in English Literature and is currently working on completing a Comparative Literary Studies Certificate. Shelby Hennessy is currently publishing a paper titled “La madre silenciosa [The Silent Mother]: A Literary and Biographical Analysis of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda and María Zambrano [Un análisis literario y biográfico de Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda y María Zambrano]” in a Spanish magazine focusing on various depictions and perceptions of the writer María Zambrano.
In this essay, I ask the question “what makes a mother?” and “how can a mother-figure care for her children effectively in her respective community under the oppressive conditions of imperialism, patriarchal domination, racism, and capitalism?”. I look to Alejandro Morales’s novel The Rag Doll Plagues (1992) as a fictional example of these oppressive conditions mothers are put under. I make the argument that through the novel’s appearances of mothers and mothering one’s community members, humanity is restored within the settings of the novel. I analyze the novel through multiple theoretical lenses, including womanist mothering, Chicana Studies’ conceptions of the home, bell hooks’ concept of the beloved community. I supplement these theories with present-day data from the United Nations to relate this novel to the real-life struggles of child-rearing during the pandemic. I argue that the novel demonstrates just how powerful cooperation between mothers and parties outside of the mothers’ biological family can be in the face of humanity’s destruction. Within The Rag Doll Plagues, the thematic of the mixture of blood and races is explored, from which a hybridity of motherhood is born. Stemming from Chicana notions of racial hybrids, the result of Morales’s hybridity of motherhood is a kinship between different mothers and forms of mothering. Within said kinships, the sacrifices of biological mothers are supplemented with the aid of others, forming a forgiving and compassionate ideal community. Readers can connect the multifaceted means of mothering here to humanity’s ever-present contemporary need for unconditional support of unconventional mothers. In this study of fictionalized motherhood and mothering, I found that the idealized community—by this, I am referring to a community that is supportive and loving of all of its members—can be reached. In order to reach said harmony, humanity has to turn its back on our capitalistic notions of surviving on our own against sickness and embrace notions of motherhood outside of the nuclear family unit. The relevance between The Rag Doll Plague’s depictions of supported and unsupported motherhood to today’s apocalyptic perils is more than just eerie: it is an unavoidable cross-racial conversation regarding motherhood and the continuation of humanity as we know it. In order to survive, we must join hands and mother one another.