Representations of the Deviant Monstrous Mother in Contemporary American Poetry


bad mother
deviant mother
absent mother
single mother
monstrous mother
the traditional institution of motherhood

How to Cite

Stambouli, Najoua. 2020. “Representations of the Deviant Monstrous Mother in Contemporary American Poetry”. Brolly 3 (1):87-101.


The paper aims to characterize the image of the unconventional mother in Western culture; in other words, the bad mother as it is coined and defined by discourses of maternal deviancy. The article provides illustrations of absent, single, and monstrous mothers in contemporary American poetry. It studies how female parents subvert traditional icons of motherhood, either through being an absent or a single mom, and spotlights how such representations correlate with portraits of monstrous mothers and victimized children as well. In this vein, basing on Diana Gustafson’s view that the mother could be absent emotionally as well as physically from her children, my study gives accounts of both physical and emotional maternal absence. While Anne Sexton’s “The Children” and “The Witch’s Life” and Sharon Olds’s “Satan Says” and “I go back to May 1937” describe the image of the absent monstrous mother, Olds’s “The Victims” and Plath’s “Three Women” deal with the figure of the single child-bearer who breaks away from the principles of the institution of motherhood, particularly the ideals of the traditional nuclear family.