Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Signs - Journal of Women in Culture and Society


Comparative Literature Program


In 1976 Adrienne Rich alerted us to the silence that has surrounded the most formative relationship in the life of every woman, the relationship between daughter and mother: "The cathexis between mother and daughter-essential, distorted, misused-is the great unwritten story. Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other."1 Since Rich demonstrated the absence of the mother-daughter relationship from theology, art, sociology, and psychoanalysis, and its centrality in women's lives, many voices have come to fill this gap, to create speech and meaning where there has been silence and absence. In fact, the five years since the publication of Rich's book have seen a proliferation of writings that have both documented the relationship from its most personal resonances to its most abstract implications and uncovered a variety of precedents for their inquiry. Books, articles in scholarly journals, essays in popular magazines, novels, poems and plays, films and television scenarios, discussion groups at national and international conferences, and courses in universities, junior colleges, and high schools throughout the country all attest to the dramatic reversal of the silence Rich deplores. It is the purpose of this essay first to account for this reversal and the subsequent centrality of the mother-daughter relationship at this particular point in feminist scholarship and then to delineate the range and direction of the work done in this area. Although I shall concentrate primarily on major psychoanalytic and literary studies that have appeared since Rich, I shall by necessity go back to some of their conceptual and theoretical sources.



Original Citation

Hirsch, M. (Autumn 1981). "Mothers and Daughters." Signs 7(1), p. 200-222.