Mother Load[ed]: Literary Representations of Addiction and the ‘Monstrous’ Mother

In: The Evil Body
Nycole Prowse
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This chapter discusses the socially propagated ‘dilemma’ of the addicted mother – its depiction in literature and the political assumptions, structures and policies such literature reflects. Literary representations of female addiction, in particular representations of the addicted mother, are embedded in cultural traditions which view the female addict, like the drugs she uses, as a menace – destabilising the foundations of civilisation. Women are traditionally viewed as gatekeepers between good and evil, chaos and constraint; the guardians and perpetuators of civilisation. Addicted mothers, therefore, are seen to betray society and are represented in literature and policy, as monstrous figures. The marginalisation of the ‘drugged’ feminine, necessitates and upholds the patriarchal symbolic order. This chapter explores this feminine positionality in the novel The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things by Laura Albert, who uses the pseudonym and fictional persona of JT LeRoy. Albert/LeRoy’s portrayal of Sarah, a drug addicted mother, exposes the positionality of the ‘drugged’ feminine as both inside and outside the symbolic order. Sarah is both innocent, (her addiction is blamed on an abusive father) and demonised for her betrayal of the socially ensconced expectations of the mother (her son lives a transient life and he is physically and sexually abused and abandoned). This chapter’s analysis of Albert/LeRoy’s novel exposes and critiques the existence of stabilizing and regulating cultural and political forces represented in a supposedly non-mainstream, contemporary cultural product, and one by a female author posing as a male author. As such, this chapter attempts to challenge the universalising notions/representations of the addicted mother as monstrous.

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