In "All the Years of My Life," why is Mr. Carr surprised at Mrs. Higgins's reaction?
After Mr. Carr confronts Alfred with his pilfering of small items from the drugstore, he calls Mrs. Higgins and asks her to come to the store; hearing Mr. Carr on the phone with his mother, Alfred fears his mother's contempt when she arrives. However, when Mrs. Carr enters the store, [S] came in, large and plump, with a little smile on her friendly face." Rather than push him away, she does not look at Alfred. Instead, with this smile on her face, and "with calmness and dignity" she extends her hand politely and introduces herself.
Mr. Carr was a little embarrassed by her lack of terror and her simplicity, and he hardly knew what to say to her....
For, he expects her to be defensive of her son and angry with him. Like Alfred, Mr. Carr is surprised at her "quiet dignity," and in his puzzlement, he begins to become impressed with her "vast tolerance" of his opinions.
Without being alarmed, while being just large and still and simple and hopeful, she was becoming dominant there in the dimly lit store.
With this quiet dignity and tolerance, Mrs. Higgins is effectively able to persuade Mr. Carr to not press charges against Alfred for his theft and, instead, just fire him. When she reaches home with her son, however,her true feelings are revealed as she bitterly tells her son, "You've disgraced me again and again....Have the decency to be quiet." As he secretly watches his mother drink a cup of tea, Alfred truly perceives the character of his mother and, in this revelation, he realizes the effect his lack of character has had upon her.