“His Final Mother,” a psychological exploration of Crawford’s development, uses stream of consciousness in its telling. Consequently, the story is not so much about the events that occur in one day of Crawford’s life as about the perceptions and impact of his mother’s death, which occurs at the same time that Crawford is grappling with puberty and adolescence.
In childhood, Crawford’s world was kind. He basked in the unconditional love of his father and the good-natured teasing of his mother. When his mother succumbs to a weak heart and his grieving father becomes irrational, the child realizes that his parents are vulnerable. His father’s shaken faith produces doubt and fear in the child, leaving the boy to wonder if God and heaven exist as he has been taught. The turbulent situation creates insecurity for the boy. He now needs to be mature and independent, but without the presence of his mother and father, his rite of passage is more frightening. Crawford grows unsure about the nature of the world; the universe that once seemed benevolent now appears cruel or, at best, unpredictable.
Reynolds Price is demonstrating the complexities of human consciousness and experience. The tale is a retrospective on life, death, and growing up. Crawford’s mourning for his mother is complicated by his father’s grieving. Juxtaposed with the child’s sense of loss is his desire to be mature; however, his path from childhood to adulthood is perilous. Crawford must learn to see the world not as an innocent child but as an experienced adult, aware of pain and loss. He learns that he can survive. No one is waiting to murder him in the dark of the kitchen, and, just as his father can conjure a vision of his wife, Crawford succeeds in conjuring his own image of his mother.
Crawford finds strength in what he knows; the presence of Adele that he summons at the close of the story is his attempt to find security in a hostile world. The mother’s image can be recalled; his visionary memories of her sustain him; they become his final remembrance of her—his final mother. The young boy endures his test. Following his father’s footsteps out of the forest, Crawford returns to bed, naked as he was in birth, to reemerge as the newborn man he desires to be.