All the Years of Her Life

by Morley Callaghan

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What is the theme of "All the Years of Her Life"?

The overriding theme of this story is that maturity depends on empathy. It is only when Alfred sees his mother in the kitchen and realizes all the hardships she’s had to endure in her life that he finally empathizes with her. In doing so, he comes to maturity.

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This isn’t the first time that Alfred Higgins has gotten into trouble, nor is it the first time that his mother has had to bail him out. And Alfred’s behavior as he and his mother make their silent way home is as arrogant and as cocky as ever. But later on that night, something changes. As Alfred peeps round the kitchen door and sees his frightened mother raise a trembling hand to her lips as she drinks a cup of tea, he achieves something of an epiphany. For the first time in his life, he can empathize with his mother; he can finally understand all the hardships she’s endured in life, and how he, Alfred, has caused so many of them.

As he looks at her through the crack in the kitchen door, it’s as if he’s seeing his mother for the very first time. No longer arrogant and full of macho bravado, Alfred has achieved a degree of maturity that would have been unthinkable only a few hours previously when Mr. Carr, his former employer at the drugstore, caught him with some stolen items in his possession. That maturity has been reached through empathy, through a recognition of all that Mrs. Higgins has experienced in her life.

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