Tears, Idle Tears

by Elizabeth Bowen

Start Free Trial

In "Tears, Idle Tears," how does Mrs. Dickinson feel about her son?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mrs. Dickinson is clearly a woman who finds it particularly hard to engage with her emotions. Consider what we are told about how she responded to the death of her husband and in particular the way that she shut herself off emotionally and did her best not to express any emotion whatsoever. Her emotional detachment makes it particularly difficult for her to understand her son and why he keeps on crying. The story focuses on her reactions to her son's tears and the way she is unable to comprehend why he should cry. Note how she responds when he first begins to cry:

She whipped out a handkerchief and dabbed at him with it under his grey felt hat, exclaiming meanwhile in tearful mortification, "You really haven’t got to be such a baby!"

For her, tears are a sign of weakness, and because she has shut herself off from tears, she is not able to comfort her son. Although she does love him, she is unable to empathise with his tears and finds herself withdrawing from him:

She walked fast, the gap between her and Frederick widened.

Bowen in this story provides us with an example of how our emotions shape our relationships with those around us. Even though the mother loves her son, she is unable to cope with him when he is crying because of her own emotional detachment.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team