Traveling Toward Empathy: An Analysis of Mothers and Nannies in U.S. Literature Post 1985
thesisposted on 21.06.2016, 00:00 by Catherine B. Garner
Using frameworks of class, race, and gender, this dissertation contends that the mother-employer/nanny dyad is unique in the ways in which it brings together women who often differ by virtue of class and race, which thereby offers an opportunity to both women to become invested in one another in ways that may be absent in other female-female partnerships. As a result of shared vulnerability, bilateral concern for the child(ren) involved, and mutual benefit gained from establishing a positive work environment, this relationship, may prove to be a model for alliance building. I argue that a key component to establishing this type of relationship is the development of empathy and the conversion of empathy into prosocial behavior. Via the explication of seven novels (i.e., Men and Angels by Mary Gordon and A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore in chapter one; Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid, The Love Wife by Gish Jen, and The Help by Kathryn Stockett in chapter two; and My Hollywood by Mona Simpson and All the Finest Girls by Alexandra Styron in chapter three), which have all been written by U.S. women after 1985, this dissertation troubles the ways that empathy is created by authors, produced in readers, and may be the basis of prosocial behavior. I contend that novels may provide safe terrain for the exploration of ambivalence that may be present in both mother-employer and nanny and that, by applying the skills acquired in this exercise, more beneficial relationships may result. Motifs of class, race, false empathy, outsider-within status, power, liminality, female identity development, and ways of mothering are all examined at length.