All the Years of Her Life

by Morley Callaghan

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What is one of the conflicts in "All the Years of Her Life"?

One of the conflicts in the story is between Mrs. Higgins’s public persona and her true self. On the surface, Mrs. Higgins appears smooth and self-assured. But in actual fact, she’s a frightened, broken woman utterly ashamed at how her son Alfred has turned out.

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Mrs. Higgins’s smooth handling of the potentially fraught situation at the drugstore has lulled both her son Alfred and the reader into a false sense of security. We get the impression that she’s someone in control of her life and her emotions. Maintaining herself with a calm dignity after her son has been caught stealing from his employer, Mr. Carr, Mrs. Higgins effortlessly conveys the impression of strength and fortitude.

But as Alfred discovers later that evening, this is all just a mask. The real Mrs. Higgins is not the same person we saw at the drugstore. Back then, she was strong, resolute, and in control. But now, as she sits at home alone in the kitchen, she’s a broken woman, evidently frightened at what kind of future lies in store for her son. He’s already been caught stealing a handful of items; perhaps he’ll graduate to stealing bigger and more expensive items later? The prospect simply doesn’t bear thinking about.

The conflict between Mrs. Higgins’s strong public persona and her true weaker self beneath the mask is difficult enough to deal with as it is, but it’ll be even harder to manage if Alfred continues on his present path. No wonder Mrs. Higgins looks so frightened.

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