Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
“The things we as women know best,” Norman has explained, “have not been perceived to be of critical value to society.” The mother-daughter relationship is a “perfect example of that.” At the play’s outset, the middle-aged Jessie announces to her mother, Thelma, that she is going to kill herself. Norman has described the ninety minutes that follow as “the fight of their lives.” Thelma exhorts, cajoles, and pleads with Jessie to abandon her plan. Jessie remains implacable. She feels trapped in the house she and Thelma share. Her husband has abandoned her; her son is a delinquent. She blames her epileptic fits for her failings as a wife and mother and for her inability to hold a job. She also blames the epilepsy—considered emblematic by critics of the plight as a woman in society—for rendering her unconscious and out of control, to be handled and observed by others.
Jessie has not felt in charge of her life, but she takes charge of her death. At the play’s opening, she is collecting old pillows and towels to minimize the mess when she shoots herself. Such meticulousness indicates Jessie’s need for control, and is ironic in view of the violence of the act she is planning.
Not until Norman heard an audience laugh at its dark humor during a reading of the play did she have confidence of its acceptance. Her husband at the time, Dann Byck, Jr., produced ’night, Mother for its Broadway run, the personal nature of...
(The entire section is 393 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
On Saturday night, while Mama hunts for her sweets, Jessie rummages for towels and garbage bags and searches the attic for her father’s gun. Jessie tells Mama that she wants the gun for protection. Mama, convinced that there are no criminals near the out-of-the-way country house where they live, thinks Jessie is foolish. Jessie eventually tells Mama of her plan to commit suicide. At first Mama thinks that Jessie, an epileptic, is ill, but Jessie feels fine physically. Then Mama says that the gun is broken, but Jessie proves that it is in good condition. She had gotten bullets by tricking her brother Dawson into believing that she was watching out for prowlers. Desperate, Mama threatens to call Dawson, but Jessie still would shoot herself before he arrived. Mama suggests calling for the ambulance driver, whom Jessie likes. Jessie, however, insists that she wants the night alone with Mama.
Mama tries to convince Jessie that normal people do not commit suicide, but Jessie wants to die and escape to a place of quiet nothingness. Unable to convince Jessie that suicide is immoral, Mama tries to gain control by insisting that Jessie cannot commit suicide in Mama’s house. Trying another tactic, Mama asks Jessie if she wants to stay around to see what she would get for her birthday. The presents turn out to be predictable and not what Jessie wants.
Jessie plans the whole evening and makes a list of things she wants to do. Mama thinks that Jessie...
(The entire section is 881 words.)
'night, Mother takes place in the living room and kitchen in the rural home of mother Thelma Cates and her daughter, Jessie. The play follows real time as displayed on a clock on stage. The hour and a half length of the play matches exactly the hour and a half of dialogue and action between Thelma's opening lines and her final call to Jessie's brother to inform him of his sister's death.
'night, Mother opens with Jessie Cates asking her mother for a piece of plastic sheeting and for the location of her father's gun. After Jessie finds the gun hidden away in an old shoe box in the attic, she begins cleaning the weapon. As she does, she calmly tells her mother that it is her intention to commit suicide later that evening. She accompanies this announcement with a stream of idle chatter that describes the ease with which she has purchased the ammunition and even had it delivered to their rural home. Thelma, is at first disbelieving. When she realizes that Jessie is serious, she attempts to dissuade her. Taking little note of her mother's arguments, Jessie continues with her preparations for death. She cleans the refrigerator and instructs her mother on how to order groceries, how to use the washer and dryer, and when to put out the garbage. She tells Thelma that she has stopped delivery of the daily paper, ordered her favorite candy for her, and arranged to continue the delivery of milk—although her mother prefers soda or orangeade, Jessie has...
(The entire section is 914 words.)