Mary O’Donnell’s novel The Elysium Testament (1999) narrates the story of Nina, an accomplished grotto restorer, but a neglectful wife and mother according to the Irish patriarchal symbolic order –the “register of regulatory ideality” (Butler, Bodies that Matter 18). Estranged from her husband, Neil, she sends him a series of letters, her “testament,” where some of the most significant aspects of her life are exposed. Readers discover that Nina’s and Neil’s marriage begins to crumble after the birth of their second child, Roland, to whom Nina attributes a frightening dual nature, which she tries to control through physical and psychological punishment. When Roland accidentally perishes in the grotto Nina has been restoring, the ensuing guilt she experiences sends her into a profound state of depression. A psychiatrist helps her begin a cathartic, healing and redeeming process by which she may experience an inner revolution and a symbolic rebirthing. This study explores how Nina’s vulnerability as a mother and wife in distress is projected onto her son, Roland, whose abnormal behavior forms an element of unaddressed psychic disturbance in her own life. This work also examines the psychoanalytic dimensions of the strategies she implements to resist the hegemonic discourse and social practices in favor of domesticity, marriage and motherhood in Ireland. Julia Kristeva’s psychoanalytic approach towards the maternal and Judith Butler’s, Zeynep Gambetti’s and Leticia Sabsay’s views on vulnerability and resistance are employed to analyze the topic.
Jaime de Pablos, María Elena.
"Motherhood, Vulnerability and Resistance in The Elysium Testament by Mary O’Donnell."
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