Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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STRAUS / IDEOLOGICAL AGENDAS AND IMAGES OF WOMEN
3 5
like the successful women she interviews in Israel — not their
mothers’, bu t their fathers’ daughters, p regnan t with their
fathers’ dreams. Beatrix discovers that daughters are mothers
to fathers, and o ther men. And that she was a mo ther who,
like the riddling mothers, had taught her daugh te r patriarchal
lessons about womanhood. She had passed on the legacy o f
mother-daugh ter conflict, so that now, despite her intelligence
and success as a writer, she is an absent mother, searching for
her daugh ter Lena who ran away.
B roner’s stories o f women serving men is certainly rem inis­
cent o f Roth’s fictional world. Where Roth presents sons in love
with mothers, B roner presents daughters in love with fathers.
Moreover, the exaggerated, comedic style o f
Her Mothers,
like
that o f
Portnoy’s Complaint,
invites distance and critique, ra the r
than endorsement o f the way things are depicted. While Roth
can be seen as merely satiric, Broner tries to develop a critique,
made explicit th rough a complex multi-level narration o f
Beatrix’s story that highlights Beatrix’s insights into the con­
straining na tu re o f the patriarchal images o f mothers and
daughters. Beatrix comes to realize that “it is the final generosity
to embrace one’s mother.” More fortunate than Zuckerman, she
is able to act on this insight before her mother dies, to tell her
mother she loves her, and be welcomed in a mutual embrace.
While Zuckerman did not want to write with his eye on the
image o f Jews, Beatrix, self-consciously reading and writing as
a woman, upbraids and criticizes the masculine critical institu­
tion that reads her literary mothers’ lives from the point o f
view o f men. To Earl Schenck Miers’s conviction that: “To know
Louisa May Alcott . . . one must know also the fa ther whose
compassionate, indestructible natu re was the warm kiss shining
in her eyes,” she replies:
“Who made Bronson Alcott? Who were his mothers? . . . Up
yours, Earl Schenck Miers o f Edison, New Jersey. Miss Peabody,
Mrs. Alcott, and Miss Alcott made up the character Bronson by
applauding, nursing, and supporting him.”
Similarly, Beatrix angrily upbraids the legitimacy o f a trad i­
tion o f “matriarchy” for Jewish women that serves the needs
o f men: “Mothers! Sara! Rivka! Lea! Rahel! You have taught
your daughters that women fight over the penis o f a man . . .
Who named
you
my mothers? Who named
this
a matriarchy?”