Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Mary E. Anderson


What happens when radical intentions meet ingrained narrative patterns? Focusing on Birth and After Birth by Tina Howe, Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) by Sheila Callaghan, and The How and the Why by Sarah Treem, this paper will unpack the way these texts address cultural attitudes surrounding motherhood and childlessness. A feminist lens will be applied to a dramaturgical study of these plays and the inherited legacies of mothers and non-mothers on stage with which these playwrights grapple. Despite their attempts to expose and dismantle the oppressive cycle of essentialized maternity, these plays all utilize a protagonist/antagonist structure to craft their criticisms, posing mother against non-mother. It will be shown that rather than illuminating the many ways women face societal oppression, this dramatic structure supports a hegemonic motherhood that ties a woman’s identity to her maternal status and fails to support a plurality of female expression. By putting two forms of such an expression in conflict, it is my argument that these depictions ultimately support the patriarchal system that creates that oppression.