Mothers in Masquerade: Objectification and Theatricality in the Poetry of Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath

Najoua Stambouli


Drawing on John Rivière’s view that female masquerade could be considered either as submission to dominant social codes or as resistance to patriarchal norms, my research paper seeks to represent masquerade as women’s submission to the patriarchal constructions of the feminine and the institution of motherhood in modern American poetry. My paper adopts the first view of masquerade and applies it on Sylvia Plath’s "Lesbos", "Three Women", and Anne Sexton’s «Housewife" and "Self in 1958". Indeed, mothers who live to the American ideals of womanhood and motherhood usually enact the masquerade of the ideal mother in order to represent a good self image and, hence, to gain social acceptance. Yet, by putting on the mask of the good traditional mother masquerade turns them into submissive women or rather objects with no identities and no wills. My study, which explores the constructedness of mother identity in modern American literature, describes how masquerade exposes mothers’ objectification and victimisation. It illustrates how masquerading mothers are objectified as spectacle and gives an insight into the motif of theatricality to convey by that the concept of masquerade. My research paper also shows how disguised mothers use authentic voices to react to the inauthenticity of their mothering experiences and to the artificiality of the ideal mother image.


masquerade, motherhood, objectification, theatricality.

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