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After certain events occur, Alfred finally matures when he feels compassion for his mother as he attains insight into her character.
The young man, Alfred Higgins, lives at home with his parents. He is the sole child there since his older brothers and sister have married and moved away.
...it would be all right for his parents now if Alfred had only been able to keep a job.
One evening as he is leaving the drugstore where he is employed, Alfred is stopped by his employer Sam Carr, who asks him to empty his pockets. While Alfred challenges his employer's accusations, Mr. Carr remains firm until Alfred pulls out a compact, some lipstick, and two tubes of toothpaste. For this petty theft, Mr. Carr threatens Alfred with calling a policeman; however, the druggist phones Alfred's mother instead. Since Alfred's father is a printer and works nights, Mrs. Carr herself comes to the store with her hair hurriedly tucked under a hat and a coat covering whatever she is wearing. She enters with a quiet dignity and a slight smile on her friendly face. Speaking to Mr. Carr with great composure, she asks the druggist, "If you would only listen to me before doing anything." She reasons with Mr. Carr that sometimes "a little good advice" is better for a boy than being arrested by the police, and she asks Mr. Carr if he will permit Alfred to just accompany her home. All this time Alfred observes the exchange between his mother and Mr. Carr:
Without being alarmed, while being just large and still and simple and hopeful, she was becoming dominant in the dimly lit store.
When Mr. Carr acquiesces and releases Alfred to his mother, she thanks him with a warmth and gratitude that moves the druggist to say, "Sorry we had to meet this way," as he clasps her hand.
As mother and son depart and walk home, Alfred notices that her face is now stern and worried. Going along in silence, he becomes "aware of the strength and sternness in her." When he does speak, she abruptly interrupts, telling him to be quiet and not to speak to her, adding, "You've disgraced me again and again.... That's the last time."
Having reached home, his mother tells Alfred that he is "a bad lot" and she orders him to leave her alone and go to bed. While Alfred undresses in his room, he hears his mother as she heats the kettle. As Alfred reflects upon what has occurred at the store, he acquires an admiration for her strength; suddenly, he wants to tell her that she sounded great. Walking toward the kitchen to compliment her, Alfred is arrested by the look upon her face. For, this woman who has earlier seemed so self-assured now trembles as she brings the cup of tea to her mouth. "She seemed very old." At this defining moment, Alfred finally comprehends his mother's tribulations:
He understood why she had sat alone in the kitchen the night his young sister had kept repeating doggedly that she was getting married.... Now he felt all that his mother had been thinking of as they walked along the street together a while ago.
Without speaking, Alfred stands watching his mother, and at that moment, "his youth seemed to be over." Alfred comes to an understanding of what he has caused his mother and gains a new sympathy for her. Therefore, it is in a new light that Alfred sees his mother now; he has finally matured and makes the passage into manhood and responsibility.
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