115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mum’s the Word: Maud Martha, Silence, and the Domestic Space

Sarah Buckner, University of California, Riverside

This paper explores how Gwendolyn Brooks' Maud Martha crafts a kind of alternative resistance which is rooted in quiet, interior life and the domestic space. Brooks' work resists oversimplified narratives which cast the domestic as wholly oppressive and voiced opposition as most favorable.  I argue that Maud Martha unveils the domestic space as a place, hidden from public visibility, which is always already concerned with the public.


Much of the most recent critical work surrounding Gwendolyn Brooks’ only novel, Maud Martha, casts Martha as a repressed homemaker who is unable to articulate her anger.  Many readings of the text fall in line with broader narratives of domesticity and resistance which characterize the domestic space as wholly oppressive and voiced opposition as the only means of political dissent.  However, I argue that Maud Martha’s silence is strategic and her domestic life, generative. Together, they are two components of a life-long thought project which proposes an alternative kind of resistance.  This means that Maud Martha’s silence becomes a means of thinking things out and through, of grappling with the public whilst managing “private” wounds. Because of this, Martha’s prioritizing of silence as an intellectual practice also repositions the quiet space of the home as a place of radical possibility.  In doing so, Brooks’ novel unsettles notions of public and private, unveiling the domestic space as a place which, although often hidden from public visibility, is often concerned with public matters. Ultimately, my essay seeks to read Brooks’ novel as a gesture towards an alternative kind of resistance which is rooted in the quiet happenings of the everyday.