What is the significance of the discourse of motherhood in the United States? How is this white, middle-class mythology constructed? "Motherhood and Representation" explores the portrayal and ideological coding of "motherhood" in U.S. culture from 1830 to the present, examining the mother within three distinct, but ultimately related spheres: the historical, which charts the changes in the role of the socially constructed, institutional mother from Rousseau, through high-modernism, to the post-modernist present; the psychoanalytic, which focuses on various theories of the mother in the unconscious, from Freud, to Lacan and the French feminists, to more recent theoretical revisions and challenges; and, finally, the mother as she is depicted in cultural representations, particularly literary and film.
Kaplan focuses on the two dominant Western paradigms of mother as "Angel" and "Witch" in nineteenth century women's writing, and then uses these analyses as the context for an exploration of twentieth century Hollywood cinema, including the films "Imitation of Life, Stella Dallas, Christopher" "Strong, Now Voyager, Marnie, Three Men and a Baby, The Good Mother," and "The Handmaid's Tale." The final section interprets the contesting and often contradictory contemporary discourses of the mother, arguing that modern reproductive technologies have created dramatic changes in the representation of motherhood. "Motherhood and Representation" will be essential reading for all those involved in gender studies, cultural studies, film, and critical theory.