Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Kristin Langellier

Second Committee Member

Eric Peterson

Third Committee Member

Nathan Stormer


This study explores single mother storytelling as a performance of identity and avoids essentializing or grouping single mothers into a category to be studied. I analyze the narrative performance of single mother storytelling as a way of understanding what stories single mothers tell about themselves. I examine how storytelling performance is a way to make and remake identities of single motherhood. This study recognizes single mother storytelling as working within discursive constraints of communication interactions and as co-constituted performances of identity rather than an essentializing observation of behavior. The embodiment and interaction of storytelling can inform others about cultural contexts, social differences, and personal meanings. For those whose voices are muted by dominant discourses, such as single mothers, storytelling becomes a tool for listening to and understanding the experience of an “other.”

Storytelling is co-constitutive, therefore, my interaction with participants played a role in making each single mother narrative into a performance of identity. Through narrative interviews with single mothers I analyzed what stories single mothers tell and how they tell them (content-ordering), what work must be done by whom and for whom during the storytelling (task-ordering), and finally how each single mother performs her identities as she shares her personal narratives (identity-ordering). The interviews were conducted in a conversational manner initiated through questions relevant to my study which I designed to allow space for participants to share what they experience as single mothers. I created performance transcripts to analyze single mother storytelling as a relationship between a teller and a listener that is embodied, situated in context, and is a ‘making’ and a ‘doing’ something that is always political. This study recognizes motherhood and marriage ideologies as always present in the bodies of single mothers who unavoidably speak either within or against these discourses as they share their personal experiences.

The most important conclusion to draw from this study is that the participants' storytelling was multi-layered and defiant to the notion that there is one, true, ready-made 'master narrative' of single motherhood told in one 'right' way which defines all single mothers. Final insights also suggest: first, single mothers want to tell their story and they want to be heard; second, how they tell their stories depend upon their audience and the situation; third, single mother stories are not easily told because there is not a single model for telling them; forth, single mother storytelling is characterized by multiple and layered complications that evoke emotions throughout their beginnings, middles, and ends; fifth, in single mother storytelling the narrators position themselves as a 'good mother,' despite all the complications of her experiences; sixth, single mother storytelling includes anxieties over being 'good-enough '— a 'good mother' and a 'good person' at the same time; seventh, in single mother storytelling, narrators talk back to the stigmas of culture and society; eighth, single mother storytelling suggests that the narrators are aware that lone motherhood is not the cultural ideal.