All the Years of Her Life

by Morley Callaghan

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In "All the Years of Her Life," what does the mother's trembling hand symbolize?

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The trembling in Mrs. Higgin's hands is an external expression of the pain and suffering she undergoes while addressing the problems in her life.

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In Morley Callaghan’s short story “All the Years of Her Life,” Mrs. Higgins’s trembling hand symbolizes her true self. She is truly hurt and fearful about Alfred’s actions, not the calm and rational person she presented herself to be at the drugstore. This is not the first time Alfred has been in trouble; according to the narrator, he acts tough every time he gets in trouble. Mrs. Higgins also reprimands Alfred for doing one bad thing after another. The reader can assume that his mother has been dealing with his trouble alone, since she does not want Alfred to tell his father. She puts on a brave face at the drugstore to extricate her son from possibly going to jail. She puts on an angry face at home to reprimand her son. The reader can assume she will put on a different face around her husband so he will not know about his son’s actions. But when she is alone, Mrs. Higgins’s true self emerges as worried and frightened for her son, and pained in having to deal with her son’s troubles.

Her trembling hand causes an epiphany for Alfred. This is the first time he really looks at his mother and sees a vulnerable person. He intends to congratulate his mother for her cool demeanor, but instead he sees that she is worried and scared. Her shaking hand makes Alfred take a good look at the worry lines on her pale face, which compels a change in him. He matures at the moment he recognizes that his mother is not the strong person he thought she was. Seeing her for the first time as human forces him to be ashamed of the pain he has put her through by his foolish actions of youth.

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Mrs. Higgins's hands shake as she lifts the kettle to pour out some hot water in a cup for herself. Her hands also shake as she lifts the cup of hot water to her lips. The shaking could be an outward expression of all the pent-up emotions she is feeling after the affair at the store: anger, shame, despair, and exasperation. Mrs. Higgins has just arrived home after being summoned at the drugstore where her son, Alfred, works. Mr. Carr, the owner of the drugstore, has told her that Alfred is a petty thief; he has stolen things like lipsticks and toothpastes from the store for quite some time. Mr. Carr had wanted to punish Alfred by reporting him to the police. However, Mrs. Higgins had managed to convince the furious store-owner to forgive Alfred and let him go with a stern warning and some advice.

Alfred has been unable to keep a job ever since he left school. He has repeatedly got into trouble and caused much pain to his parents. Although Mrs. Higgins had seemed calm and controlled in the store, Alfred is shocked to see a different her in the kitchen at home: “her face was frightened and broken, her hands trembled, and she looked very old.” In Alfred’s own words, “he knew all the years of her life by the way her hand trembled as she raised the cup to her lips.” While initially he had marveled at her composure in the store, now, he is struck by her fragility. He remembers how fragile and defeated she had looked the night her sister announced that she was getting married. He finally understands that their mother puts on a brave face while silently suffering because of their misdeeds.

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In Morley Callaghan’s short story, “All the Years of Her Life,” Mrs. Higgins' trembling hand represents all of the trials and tribulations of her life. Although she is able to remain outwardly calm under duress, after the fact, her trembling hand signals the release of her emotions.

When Mr. Carr calls Mrs. Higgins to the pharmacy where her son works, the owner informs her that her son is a petty thief. She is able to reason with him so that he does not involve the police. This is not the first time her son had trouble keeping a job and his only reason for stealing was that he needed money to go out with his friends. As mother and son walk home, she shows her anger and asks him not to speak. When they reach home, she tells him to go to his room, almost as if he was a little boy. However, when he looks out at her making a cup of tea her hand is trembling. He realizes that he has seen her hand tremble at other times when she had to remain strong. “He watched his mother, and he never spoke, but at that moment his youth seemed to be over; he knew all the years of her life by the way her hand trembled as she raised the cup to her lips.” Suddenly, he sees his mother as a spent woman but more importantly, he begins to see himself as an adult.

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