Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies (PhD)

Degree Level



Graduate School


Jennifer M. Hoyer

Committee Member

Stephanie Schulte

Second Committee Member

Mohja Kahf


criticism, Middle East, motherhood, peace activism, women writers


This dissertation advocates for reading the literatures of two Middle Eastern women writers through a Maternal Critical lens that recognizes the demands of universal vulnerability in characters who resist violence, and responds in Maternal communities of Readers that connect readers to characters, readers to writers, and readers to other readers, carrying the struggle for equity forward. My unfolding argument, centered on Maternal Critical activity in the novels of Palestinian writer Sahar Khalifeh and Israeli writer Ronit Matalon, demonstrates how literature by these Middle Eastern women is part of a narrative context of women’s peacemaking and resistance to violence, a part that has been largely overlooked until now. I argue these literatures are nonviolent resistance and that reading these works through a Maternal Critical lens constitutes a participatory response in the demands for equity from which the literatures emerge. Maternal Criticism draws on philosopher Sara Ruddick’s work, Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace for its primary vocabulary that frames the work of mothering as responding to the demands of vulnerability for preservation, nurture, and social acceptance. This dissertation, Maternal Criticism, contributes to existing literary and critical readings of literature by Khalifeh and Matalon, and is the first writing to consider them in juxtaposition. The analysis advanced from these Maternal Critical readings of texts recognizes mothering practices that underpin mothers’ nonviolent resistance, activism that has shifted both practices of mothering and perceptions of mother-work in the societies from which the texts have emerged, suggesting a premise upon which to construct inclusive discourses that build peaceful communities.