How does maternity and motherhood come into play during this era?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the context of Helga's narrative, maternity and motherhood come to symbolize traditional expectations of women.  The realm of domesticity, contentment, and a sense of permanence is evident in the examples of maternity and motherhood within Helga's context. Even as challenging as Helga's own life was, her mother assumed traditional form in embracing a marriage with a White man and a setting in which Helga could experience the some semblance of normalcy in the domestic realm. The permanence and sense of tradition that is so strongly associated with maternity and motherhood is the exact opposite of Helga's consciousness.  Helga is a being in which "the storm clouds gather" with stark regularity, indicating a sense of transience in which Helga is "in search for something."  

When Helga does become immersed maternity and motherhood, the collision between domesticity and her own sense of longing becomes evident.  The casualty of this collision is how she examines being in the world. Helga's condition of motherhood facilitates a grim assessment of what being a woman of color involves:

[Life] wasn’t a miracle, a wonder. It was, for Negroes, at least, only a great disappointment. Something to be got through with as best one could.

Helga's understanding of motherhood and maternity is one in which being tied down becomes her reality.  The pattern in which her life had been led in terms of leaving and searching for something that was missing has become replaced with being tethered.  The ending in which she cannot revert back to her familiar pattern of departure is hollow, and not revivifying.  One realizes that while Helga has accepted her condition of maternity and motherhood in the hopes that her four children have it better than she did, her own dreams of self-definition are extinguished.