Motherhood vs. Artistry: the Dichotomy of Womanhood in Edith Wharton's Twilight Sleep and Zelda Fitzgerald's Save Me the Waltz

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Chessor, Dominique
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Middle Tennessee State University
Literature has historically been shaped by patriarchal ideals and values. Indeed, the term “Jazz Age” and the ideal of the flapper were molded by none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose wife served as the model for this ideal. The labels of “flapper,” “New Woman,” and “Southern Belle” are all boxes within which women -- both literary creations and real persons-- have been supposed to neatly fit, yet a look at women’s literature of the early twentieth century tells us otherwise. This thesis explores issues of motherhood, artistry, and identity in the Jazz Age by examining representations of women, particularly flappers and mothers, in the work of two authors who themselves wrestled with issues of womanhood, motherhood, and identity: Edith Wharton and Zelda Fitzgerald. With the strong (and problematic) female characters that they have created, Zelda Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton are demonstrating the impossible dichotomies that women at the turn of the twentieth century were faced with. In particular, these characters deal with the dichotomy of motherhood versus artistry. In their fictional characters of Lita Manford and Alabama Beggs, both Wharton and Fitzgerald demonstrate a struggle that they faced in their own lives: the fact that it was next to impossible for them as women to occupy multiple roles successfully, despite the supposed strides that women had made. This thesis examines the parallels between the lives of these authors and their fictional characters, who struggle to reconcile their identities as flappers alongside their roles as mothers and their dreams of artistry, reflecting their authors’ persistent and progressive belief that, despite the ideologies upheld by their contemporary society, embodying more than one role as women was not, in fact, the downfall of the American family or the degradation of ideal womanhood. Rather, Wharton and Fitzgerald use their written work to express the idea that the roles of mother and artist do not have to represent an impossible double bind, but instead can and should exist alongside one another, a concept which, even today, women are still fighting to prove.