Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Mary E. Papke

Committee Members

Stanton B. Garner, Jr., Nancy Goslee, Christine Holmlund


The last ten years have borne witness to a proliferation of pregnancy narratives in literature, popular texts and Internet sites that treat the subject realistically and often graphically. This has not always been the case. The publication of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in 1899 was a turning point, marking the beginning of serious contemplation of how the pregnant condition has affected and continues to affect women’s participation in both social and intellectual endeavors. Since the publication of Chopin’s novel, American women writers, in contrast to their male counterparts, have often sought an understanding of pregnancy that defies the notion of the condition as an idyllic one. My dissertation will attempt to study how images of pregnancy differ according to the nature of the subjectivity of the writer and of the discourse. Therefore, I will consider multiple works from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in fiction and the autobiographical memoir written by American women. By referencing certain qualities of historical female captivity narratives, I will also argue that images of pregnancy in literature portray the condition as a type of captivity. While classifying the pregnant condition as a state of captivity may connote a negative evaluation, in this dissertation I will underscore how these writers have used the condition of captivity as one in which the pregnant woman can realize, perhaps even find power in, this challenging and disturbing loss of subjectivity. Therefore, I will explore the use of the term “captive,” locating in it a multivalent meaning. To be captive in pregnancy will be understood as reaching a kind of sublime, a rapturous experience that has both negative and positive effects on the experiencing subject. In working with various American writers and their valuable studies of this condition, I hope to reveal a genre of “pregnancy literature” that might validate this subject as one worthy of intellectual study and critical attention.

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