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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 (the historical 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 talking about degrees of difference rather than substantive change. On some levels, Now Voyager and Mamie are only too similar in their representations 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 producing character-change and explaining mother-daughter interaction. Generically a "woman's melodrama," the text asks the spectator to identify 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). Although the 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...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 88-102
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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