All the Years of Her Life

by Morley Callaghan

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The author chose to start the story with a confrontation between characters and to share the background information later. How does this choice most affect the story?

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Right at the beginning of “All the Years of Her Life” by Morley Callaghan, the reader witnesses how Alfred Higgins is getting into trouble at work. However, while the story is told by an omniscient narrator, the reader, on the other hand, is initially unaware of any background information. This allows the reader to embark on a journey of discovery almost parallel to Alfred Higgins’s own journey of coming to understand his mother better.

Alfred is caught stealing goods from the drugstore, which he first denies but later admits. When Mr. Carr calls Alfred’s mother, asking her to come to the shop, most readers would at this point jump to the conclusion that the situation is now going to become very uncomfortable for Alfred. This suspicion is confirmed by Alfred himself, who anticipates that his mother “would rush in with her eyes blazing, or maybe she would be crying, and she would push him away when he tried to talk to her, and make him feel her dreadful contempt.” This assumption is backed up further by the fact that Alfred has been in trouble before: “ever since Alfred had left school he had been getting into trouble wherever he worked.” Therefore, his mother’s actual response to the incident, which by contrast is very calm and composed, becomes even more surprising for both Alfred and the reader.

By withholding background information from the reader at the beginning of the story, the author allows the reader to discover the truth alongside Alfred—culminating in the end of the story. It is at a single moment that Alfred finally sees the truth and understands how he had failed to realize how his mother really had been feeling all those years: “he knew ... by the way her hand trembled as she raised the cup to her lips.” This sentiment is made even more powerful by the very poignant last line of the story: just as the reader had no background information about the family, Alfred also feels “that this was the first time he had ever looked upon his mother.”

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