Memento matria: Patterns of maternity, memory, memento, immigration, cooking and community in Willa Cather's "My Antonia", Amy Tan's "The Joy Luck Club", and Susan Power's "The Grass Dancer"
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Although Leslie Fiedler argues that canonical American literature is marked by a pattern where male characters flee civilized society and the civilizing influence of women, I see an alternative pattern where strong female characters challenge society's boundaries and form new, mutually supportive communities. These female characters usually experience immigration in either a traditional or epistemological sense, develop from nubile girlhood into mature motherhood, have intense, potentially problematic relationships with their own mothers, and survive severe traumas such as rape, war, abandonment and/or ostracism by attaching immaterial memories, stories and hopes to various kinds of generally material mementos. Commonly used types of mementos include photographs, jewelry, psychical and physical scars, cooking recipes, performative rituals and children. These mementos function as cultural bridges connecting generations, communities, and ethnicities. Identifying Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850) as the first American novel to exhibit this pattern, I focus upon analyzing the pattern as it appears in Willa Cather's My Ántonia (1918), Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club (1989), and Susan Power's The Grass Dancer (1994). While each novel is only one representation of an ethnic community as portrayed by one author, all four novels contain striking similarities and numerous allusions and references to other, previous cultures, suggesting that a universal pattern of matrilineal memory transcends the particulars of individual ethnic cultures.