The Labor of Classical Maternal Melodramas

Authored by: Kathleen A. McHugh

The Routledge Companion to Global Popular Culture

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415641470
eBook ISBN: 9780203081846
Adobe ISBN: 9781136175961


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This essay rereads a canonical generic cluster of classical Hollywood maternal melodramas, augmenting critical approaches based on gender and genre to attend to these films’ pronounced attention to domestic labor. Employing textual analysis and social history, I examine the cultural work accomplished by three specific films and argue that they address interrelated problems concerning domestic femininity, labor, and social difference in the 1930s and 40s. Class emerges as a signal difference with which these films grapple. Following from Thorstein Veblen’s adage that “obviously productive labour is in a peculiar degree derogatory to respectable women,” these films visually contend with this derogation and its implications (96).

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