Mothers in prison, women's autobiography, and activism
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation, which is based on seven interviews conducted in a Texas women’s prison, focuses on stories told by a few of the growing number of mothers incarcerated in American prisons. Incarcerated mothers’ stories deal with the challenges of motherhood before, during, and after incarceration, offering a nuanced picture of social and psychological contexts that surround disadvantaged mothers with unrealistic social norms. The sum of these women’s experience— material and psychological—adds up to a counter-narrative critiquing the dominant culture’s ideas of what mothers “should be” and how the system fails to provide opportunities to disadvantaged parents. The study analyzes the rhetorical strategies of incarcerated mothers to determine what strategies silenced groups utilize in the development of counternarratives. My analysis of these personal narratives focuses on what happens to incarcerated mothers and to their children in the context of the long-term development of that mother’s family. Utilizing theories of women’s autobiography, a study of vernacular discourse, and ideological criticism, I analyze how recurrent themes in the narratives (particularly poverty, abuse, addiction, lack of education, and a desire to be an effective parent) reveal women coping with and challenging society’s myths of idealized motherhood. I conclude the dissertation with suggestions for the connection of rhetorical scholarship with activism outside the academy.