Aftermath by Rachel Cusk: Blogpost by Rachel Chandar

Within Aftermath Rachel Cusk discusses motherhood through her feminist viewpoint, writing about other women’s voices on motherhood, and the effect of divorce upon herself and her children. As a feminist, Cusk wished for equality in her marriage. As a working mother, she longs to maintain a balance between her career and her home life, to have a marriage as a ‘transvestite couple’ allowing her to be ‘both woman and man’. This transgression from the stereotypical role of a woman is fresh, showing the new desires or ‘new reality’ for the married woman and upon motherhood. She powerfully speaks out and encourages women to transgress from societal expectations of motherhood, as women do not have to conformingly be the stay-at-home mother living entirely for their children, but can help define the ‘stunning refinement of historical female experience’.

From her husband’s view ‘he believed he had taken the part of woman in our marriage’, yet he finds the motherly role too feminine, that it is simply the womanly duty to shop and cook for the family, and pick the children up from school. A father is seen as helpful for doing tasks a mother is expected to perform. But surely these fatherly duties should be no different from the mother’s duties? As well as this, should a mother not have the opportunity to work for her family without scrutiny, unlike the working husband who is simply praised?

From Cusk’s experience, she voices motherhood as being ‘foreign’, as though it is a ‘cult’ in which she must fully surrender her identity. She could not find the expected femininity that comes into motherhood within herself, and so takes on a masculine identity, while her husband somewhat emasculated himself, leaving them both with a sort of equality- as ‘hybrids’. It can be seen that Cusk does not have this ‘maternal instinct’, the motherly bond that is expected from all mothers. She experiences a loss of identity by not only rebelling against societal expectations of motherhood by being a working mother, but also being immersed in new motherly duties. Aftermath also expresses the mother’s voice from the point of view of Cusk’s mother. The fact that Cusk’s mother had taken on her maternal duties to live for her children depicts the expected image of motherhood, as well as the adulterated male values of patriarchal society, one in which Cusk feels alien to.


Aftermath is a text that truly voices the frustration in the divide between motherly and fatherly roles, and how today many women are the working mother, constantly battling with their identity in the need to be both male and female to justify their working self.  By defying societal expectations she is scrutinized, losing her voice and thus her identity, pushing her back into the ‘chink in the tall wall of womanhood’.


15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Fern on October 24, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Interesting read, thank you for your opinions! Additionally to this, you talk frequently about the duties and identities being a woman holds and when reading this text, an idea of identity that I found was how children are taking credit for what their mothers produced: themselves. The narrator jokes about how her mother was upset at their lack of gratitude of being bought into the world by her, but is that a maternal duty/identity? Is that how Cusk believes her mother see’s her or is just narrator related?


  2. Posted by Zoha Hussain on October 25, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Hello I really enjoyed the blog. I enjoyed reading about how the woman is criticised for transgressing the ‘norm.’ I feel the alliterative ‘women’s work’ points to how the female body and mind was suppressed into the role/state of the ‘other.’ The suspension of one’s ‘own character’ highlights how perhaps Cusk is suggesting that the self is only an illusion and that there are many centres of consciousness; she has to be a mother, wife and a woman. The true self then becomes a figment of a forgotten reality. The person then becomes a hybridised ‘self’ which, from the post-colonial perspective, highlights how the person then does not possess a original self.


  3. Posted by Hannah Mitchell on October 25, 2017 at 1:46 pm

    I was interested in what you said about the expectations of women in society. The Protagonist makes it clear from the beginning that she is uncomfortable with the stereotypical roles of a woman and mother. Her husband taking on the ‘stay at home’ parental role is a modern theme within modern families. However, two of her friends show the opposing views of society with this matter; one stating it was supportive, while the other claimed it was a threat to his masculinity.


  4. Posted by Ella Bukbardis on October 25, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Hi Rachel, I enjoyed reading this. Another aspect of the book would be to look at the idea of space. Cusk writes about how growing up in her parent’s house did not feel like a home due to her mother’s cold, non-maternal attitude towards her. As the book proceeds, Cusk voices her own fears of her own home dismantling. The narrator sees other women as ‘quaint’, yet offers the opinion that they had not ‘ruined’ their own homes. Cusk also believes that due to her own regression post-breakup, she no longer has anyone to feel equal to and therefore feels her freedom has left her ‘naked’ and vulnerable.


  5. Posted by Becky Gawn on October 25, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this and believe that mother/father roles is an ongoing issue for many families. In this day and age there are many families where roles seemed to be reversed – father taking on more motherly roles but my question is are we able to define these roles by being motherly or fatherly? What is it that makes cooking a female duty and one that is expected of mothers? How would this then be translated into single parent homes – would a mother play father and mother or simply completing tasks that are required of a parent? I feel this question is also asked in ‘A Temporary Matter’ where we see the husband fulfil more of a feminine role.


  6. Great blog! I found Cusk’s discussion of who children ‘belong’ to really interesting. She is unaware that she feels the children are her domain until threatened by the idea that they may no longer be hers to keep – this, to me, suggests an internalisation of the traditional feminine roles, especially of mother as sole caregiver, that we subconsciously believe despite acting consciously in a different manner. I also find the way Cusk talks about her children to reflect the language men have historically used to refer to their wives. Is a mother’s ownership of her children a rebuttal to her objectification by men?


  7. Posted by Sara on October 25, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    This is a great blog which highlights the struggles of women’s transition to motherhood. Cusk clearly reflects the lost that motherhood inflicts upon women upon gaining that role as a mother as they lose their identity and sense of reality through their need to perform their role as a mother. This links to Judith Butler’s essay on the subject as gender being a performative role as Cusk herself describes her own mother as an ‘actress’ who was ‘performing’. This story that her mother kept performing, in turn, becomes her reality confining her within that domestic space so that ‘she can’t see anything’ beyond her home and the role she has been given to perform.


  8. Posted by Carmen Luis on October 25, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    I found this an interesting blog Rachel as you’re understanding of what Cusk is attempting to communicate to readers is quite straightforward and comprehensible. Cusk demonstrates the effects and repercussions on women that refuse to be confined to their maternal duties and instead opt to create a new identity for themselves. This new identity seemingly incorporates conventional masculine traits such as providing financial support to their families. However, why is it that Cusk feels threatened by these social changes especially as she longed for to be free from the limitations of femininity?


  9. Posted by Bronagh on October 25, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    Great post Rachel! I agree that the work really captures ‘female’ frustration. I found it interesting that both ‘Aftermath’ and ‘A Temporary Matter’ dwell on images of light vs. darkness. Traditionally light represents, goodness, truth and happiness, yet within both pieces it is within the light that the characters are most unhappy and the dark that they are most comfortable and true to themselves. I think that this is because within the darkness they are able to act naturally following their human instincts, rather than over thinking their role or purpose. So although Cusk’s final image of herself standing outside of the window in the darkness represents the uncertainty of her future it also represents her independence and ability to create her own path, rather than follow the one illuminated for her by society and its expectations.


  10. This is a really interesting blog, thanks for sharing! I really enjoyed your points about Cusk feeling alien for not adhering to the “cult” of motherhood, and how she feels she is a “hybrid” of both gender roles. I however noticed that Cusk refers to herself and her husband as “transvestites”, which implies that they have transitioned from one role to the other… Do you think that Cusk really believes that they are both roles (hybrids), or one (transvestites)?


  11. Posted by Ruzina on October 25, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    I really enjoyed reading your blog and I agree with the points you make. Rachel Cusk explores Feminism through her marriage. She speaks of her husband’s dependence on her after marriage, yet she doesn’t do the chores at home because they make her feel “unsexed”. She says that her and her husband are ‘transvestites’, since working mothers will find it difficult to assume a role when they divide their authority between home and work. Cusk suggests: “Either she’s doing twice as much as she did before, or she sacrifices her equality and does less than she should.” Women have become so obsessed with playing various roles –so what is a woman’s true identity?


  12. This is a great and in-depth reading of Aftermath, well done! I too focused on Cusk’s thoughts that her and her husband were equal, despite their appropriation of the opposite expected gender roles. I also thought the piece read as honest, Cusk highlights her own dilemma, and perhaps limitations, it isn’t just a critique of men.


  13. This is a great and in-depth reading of Aftermath, well done! I too focused on Cusk’s thoughts that her and her husband were equal, despite their appropriation of the opposite expected gender roles. I also thought the piece read as honest, Cusk highlights her own dilemma, and perhaps limitations, it isn’t just a critique of men.


  14. Posted by Lily Money on November 22, 2017 at 8:25 pm

    Hi, I really enjoyed this blog and agreed with a lot of your points. One part I find interesting is when she talks about living in the male role and taken on the social expectations. But when it came to her break up she says she couldn’t let her ex husband have her daughters. On one hand she has all these views of being a feminist, then it changes suddenly when it comes to her children. I find this piece of writing by Cusk really highlights the difficult decisions women have to make for their children and for themselves.


  15. Posted by Georgia on December 11, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    I think it was really refreshing to read about a mother who didn’t naturally identify with the idea of motherhood. In Cusk’s novel, she struggles for equal power with her husband which results in their demise, I thought that it almost related to Virginia Woolf’s killing of the ‘Angel’ in a way.


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