Fertility as Literary Theme Critical Essays


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

In contrast to these male authors’ visions of infertility, many women authors have criticized traditional metaphors of fertility. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) questions the expectation that women are entirely fulfilled by a life of domesticity. While she bears her husband’s sons, Edna Pontellier cannot embrace motherhood with the equanimity of the Creole women around her. She feels as though her identity is erased by motherhood. In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), readers are presented with a female protagonist who takes two husbands and one lover but bears no children. These women writers assert a reality that differs from the standard literary archetype.

Three African American women writers also criticize notions of women’s fertility. Toni Morrison’s Baby Suggs, in Beloved (1987), bears six children in slavery, each by a different father, and loses all but one to the slave system. Baby asserts her right to choose the fathers of her children, but clearly her fertility is used against her. Her offspring are sold away, one after another. Morrison makes it clear that what should be a source of joy and strength is subverted and degraded. In Morrison’s Sula (1973), the title character says that she is too busy making herself to make any children, suggesting that women have a difficult time discovering their own identities in the enveloping one of motherhood. Likewise, in Alice Walker’s Meridian (1976), the title character bears one child but gives it...

(The entire section is 636 words.)