Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts





First Advisor

Matthew W. Sivils


This analysis explores the shifting identity and role of the mother in fiction by American women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. First-wave feminism created tension between the new ways in which women saw themselves and their opportunities beyond home and marriage, and the traditions of a social arrangement which was slow to catch up with these changes. To explore the scope of this tension, I focus my analysis on a variety of female-authored texts: “The Giant Wisteria” and “The Yellow Wall-Paper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, the play The Verge by Susan Glaspell, and “The Heath Death of the Universe” by Pamela Zoline. The works by Gilman and Wharton, penned at the turn of the century, provide contemporary critique of family power dynamics and the role of the mother in shaping family attitudes and beliefs, with the potential to do so either in a way that empowers other women, or in a way that polices them, reinforcing oppression. Glaspell and Zoline revisit the storyline of Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper” in their works from 1921 and 1967 respectively, repurposing her narrative to reflect the concerns and tensions of their day, and focusing particularly on the ways a mother might engage intellectually or creatively—or be prevented from doing so—other than producing children. All of these works are united in their focus on the mother as a figure at a crossroads, and a potential agent for change.

Copyright Owner

Meredith Anne Smith-Lane



File Format


File Size

63 pages