As children, we all grow up with certain preconceptions about our parents, and to a certain extent we believe that they are invincible. We often don’t perceive until we are nearly adults that our parents are people too; they have feelings and conflicts and stressors in life. And that they must be strong, even when they don’t feel it, for their children. When we first see Mrs. Higgins, even her own son is drawn in by her poise and grace, by her calmness in a situation which by all rights should make her angry. After all, Alfred has been caught stealing, his boss has threatened to call the cops…any mother would be appalled and quick to demonstrate her authority at such a time. And yet Mrs. Higgins handles the situation in the exact opposite manner her son is used to – he even states that “at home…he knew she would be in a rage and would cry out against him.”
But this is not what the final lines of the story are alluding to. Rather, this calmness works in conjunction with the description of Alfred’s mother in the last paragraph to paint a picture of a tired, overworked woman whose children have given her so much trouble – Alfred can’t hold down a steady job and is still living at home, even when his younger sister is out and married – a marriage the mother was obviously opposed to. She sits alone in the kitchen with a cup of hot tea, trembling and saggy, and Alfred realizes at this moment that this trembling had marked her “through all the years of her life,” through all the grief and struggle that comes with raising four children. And so the final line, “it seemed to him that this was the first time he had ever looked upon his mother,” indicates that he is finally seeing his mother as she truly exists. He is not seeing the woman who rages against her children’s trespasses, but instead sees the real person that that strong woman concealed. His youthful blinders have fallen away, and he can see the harshness of life as written in his mother’s fatigue.