“Grief became my friend, my work:” Mary Todd Lincoln’s Uneasy Union with Memory in LeAnne Howe’s SAVAGE CONVERSATIONS (2019)
Keywords:First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, motherhood, memory culture, settler colonialism
This essay examines the politics of service vested in the First Lady role and her affective labors by turning to a contemporary fictional representation of Mary Todd Lincoln. In Savage Conversations (2019), LeAnne Howe considers issues involving US national memory, White womanhood, and settler colonial violence. The play imagines Lincoln’s insanity episode in the Bellevue asylum in the 1870s, where, as Lincoln told her doctor, an “Indian” visited her every night, scalping her and wiring her eyelids open. By outlining Mary’s performance of caring widow and her petitioning for compensation for her public service, Howe reveals Mary’s complicity in the Lincoln presidency’s settler violence. The play recalibrates the gendered renditions of (public) service inherent to the narratives of mourning, motherhood, and insanity tied to Mary’s persona and shows the flip side of the care narrative, connecting the long 19th century to the First Lady persona of the present.
How to Cite
Copyright (c) 2023 New American Studies Journal: A Forum
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.