The Play

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1247

All the action of Marsha Norman’s ’night, Mother takes place in a house which belongs to Thelma Cates, called “Mama” throughout the play by her daughter, Jessie Cates. Examples of Mama’s handiwork are everywhere: afghans, needlepoint pillows, a knitting basket overflowing with her latest work in progress. A television set faces the sofa, its screen away from the audience; the audience can assume that the set is almost always turned on. A wicker basket is full of large, thick, glossy “ladies’ magazines.” Filled candy dishes stand on all tables. Wall art is nondescript and includes framed examples of Mama’s needlepoint. The house is small and appears to be filled to capacity with possessions of this sort, all Mama’s. Overall, the effect is one of ordered clutter, displaying neither good nor bad taste and no marketable value. Nothing belongs to Jessie, though the younger woman also lives in the house.

Clocks are visible in the living room and in the open kitchen beyond it, their dials facing the audience and set at 8:15 p.m., approximating the real time at which the performance begins. A pull cord in the hall ceiling releases a ladder that leads to the attic. One closed bedroom door, facing the hallway, is visible to the audience at all times and is the entrance to Jessie’s room, whose interior the audience never sees, but which remains the center of dramatic tension throughout the play. Just before 10:00 p.m., still approximating the real time at which the play proceeds, Jessie will commit suicide in this room.

No act divisions, intervals, scene changes, or other lapses of time interrupt the tense mood. The audience feels the tension early in the play, when Jessie, asked by Mama why she is cleaning her father’s old revolver, offhandedly replies that she intends to kill herself. To this point, the conversation has seemed ordinary and even trivial, though it is immediately clear how different these women are. Mama’s greatest concerns are that she has run out of snowball cupcakes, Hershey bars, and possibly peanut brittle, that Jessie’s sudden foray into the attic will cause a mess, and that Jessie will not have replaced everything in time to give Mama her regular Saturday night manicure. Jessie, on the other hand, has her own preoccupations, including asking permission to use a beach towel which had been given to Mama by her daughter-in-law Loretta, locating a rubber or plastic sheet, asking if Mama has some extra plastic garbage bags, and cleaning her deceased father’s gun, which she has just retrieved from the attic. Strips of paper, evidently lists, stick out of the pockets of Jessie’s oversized black cardigan (perhaps her father’s), indicating that she has other things to do and intends to do them in an orderly way.

Even after Jessie makes her announcement, Mama does not seem unduly alarmed. She watches Jessie for a moment, weakly objects that the gun is broken, and reminds her that the bullets that go with it are fifteen years old. Jessie, however, has planned every detail relating to her suicide, in all likelihood more carefully than she has been able to plan any other event in her life. She expertly spins the chamber of the empty revolver, then pulls the trigger. The loud click that follows proves the gun works. Jessie also produces the new ammunition she had bought the week before. Jessie seems ironically amused that her brother Dawson, convinced by her story that she wanted the gun for protection against prowlers, had told her where she could purchase the bullets. She is also pleased that she...

(This entire section contains 1247 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

can kill herself with her father’s gun and can do so at a time that will inconvenience the fewest people, and that with her use of the towel and sheeting, she will not cause a mess in Mama’s house.

Mama’s arguments against Jessie’s plan verge on pathetic humor. She objects that Jessie will miss and shoot off an ear, that she will do just enough damage to become a vegetable, that suicide is a sin and Jessie will go straight to Hell. More menacing and hurtful is Mama’s statement that Jessie will cock the revolver and then go into one of her epileptic fits. Jessie knows, however, that her suicide is one event she can perfectly control. She has delayed it to this night only to be certain that her failed marriage to Cecil, the delinquency of her son Ricky, and her epilepsy and the drugs she takes to control it have not influenced her decision. Death is dark, quiet, and inviting, and suicide is simply a quick way to arrive at everyone’s destination; as Jessie sees it, suicide is like getting off a bus a stop or two early.

The element that underlies both Mama’s arguments against Jessie’s suicide and Jessie’s reasons for wanting to kill herself ultimately involves possessions or the lack of them. Mama objects that Jessie cannot use the towels because “they’re my towels. I’ve had them for a long time. I like my towels.” She cannot use her father’s gun because “it’s mine now, too.” She cannot commit suicide in the bedroom because “I won’t let you. The house is in my name.” She should not commit suicide because “your birthday’s coming up. . . . Don’t you want to know what we got you?” Jessie has but one thing that is completely her own, her plan to kill herself, and she does not intend to allow even her brother to discuss it with her. “This is private,” she insists, “Dawson is not invited.”

The use of simple language and spare dialogue indicates that Jessie, although average in intelligence and education, has a private world and is capable of feelings neither Mama nor Dawson could ever understand. Mama has her handicrafts, her television, her candy, and featherbrained friends such as Agnes Fletcher to keep her occupied. Dawson has his wife Loretta, and although she dominates him mercilessly, he appears quite willing to tolerate it. Jessie had had her father. Her final evening with Mama reveals that the father and daughter would stare at each other for hours, apparently happy in their wordless conversations. Mama interpreted these silences as their conspiracy to exclude her. She never realized that the bond which held them so close was probably their epilepsy.

Jessie’s marriage to Cecil failed in part because no one, except Mama, knew of Jessie’s illness. Mama repeatedly objects whenever Jessie speaks of her own “fits,” preferring that she call them seizures; yet Mama herself uses the more objectionable description whenever she wishes to keep her daughter in line. She never considers that her late husband might have been an undiagnosed epileptic, and Jessie never mentions the possibility. Moreover, Mama feels no guilt for her slowness to obtain medical treatment for Jessie or for not having spoken to Cecil about Jessie’s withdrawals and seizures, or even for tolerating the ignorance of friends such as Agnes, who refuses to enter her house for fear of catching epilepsy. She is strangely reconciled to Jessie’s death by the play’s end; she contemplates the pleasure of opening a series of little gifts Jessie has stuffed into a plastic sack and left for her and calmly dials Dawson’s telephone number after she hears a single gunshot come from Jessie’s room.

Dramatic Devices

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 338

Freudian father-daughter attachment and incipient maternal jealousy are merely background elements in ’night, Mother. These issues are suggested in the conversation of the two women, by the long black sweater Jessie wears, as specified in the stage directions, and by Jessie’s determination to consider her late father’s gun her own and to use it in her suicide. Much more important are the elements of time and time lost, represented by clocks on stage set at real time, with dials visible to the audience.

The dramatic effect of the clocks is twofold: to establish reality of action proceeding at a time approximate to that of an evening performance and to provide unity of action, according to the Aristotelian definition, without lapses or intervals. The audience knows that Jessie intends to commit suicide shortly before 10:00 p.m., and the clocks remain throughout the performance as reminders of urgency and finality. Whenever the conversation strays to trivial matters, such as how to order groceries or operate the washing machine, the audience, reminded by the clocks, silently regrets the wasted minutes. More subtly, the clocks recall the wasted moments in the women’s lives, the lack of meaningful time spent together, and the loss of those they have loved: Mr. Cates, Cecil, Ricky, and possibly even Dawson and Loretta.

Marsha Norman’s stage directions specify that both scene and characters show no discernible identification with a particular region. The house needs only to be isolated, in order to prevent outside interference with Jessie’s plan. The characters should have no accents or mannerisms; they should be without characteristics or speech patterns that would tie them to a given social class. One notices, in this connection, the astonishing simplicity of vocabulary and dialogue. Words are rarely longer than four syllables, and sentences almost never extend beyond ten words. These devices create an anonymity that suggests that the problems of Jessie and Mama are those of many contemporary Americans. They also allow these plain people to exhibit a simple purity of spirit.

Places Discussed

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 169


House. Typical ranch house built at the end of a country road. No name is given to a town here, but the rather isolated nature of the house is important, as it symbolizes the lonely life that Jessie lives in it. In contrast to Jessie, her mother is happily ensconced in her cozy living room. It is filled with nice products of her needlework that are all pleasantly attractive. Since Jessie is ill with epilepsy, she seldom leaves her house, in which she is increasingly becoming a prisoner as she ages.

On the land abutting the house, Jessie’s father had once had a farm, described as existing almost totally independent of the house. The realm of the farm belonged to the father almost exclusively, just as the realm of the house belonged to the mother.

Small house

Small house. House that Jessie’s husband, a carpenter, built for her in earlier years. It was a small and cozy house, in which she seems to have been happy.

Form and Content

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 828

The entire drama of ’night, Mother is a conversation between mother and daughter which begins about 8:15 on a Saturday evening. There is no intermission. Clocks are visible onstage in the kitchen and the living room and run throughout the play; Jessie, her mother, and the audience are clearly aware of the time passing moment by moment, and during one tense moment Jessie winds the small clock on the table. The house is relatively new and is on a country road. Jessie spends the evening preparing for her suicide and attempting to explain her reason for shooting herself to her mother.

Mama has never understood Jessie, and her comment following the fatal shot indicates that at the end of the play she still does not realize that Jessie is a mature woman with a mind and a will of her own. She says, “Jessie, Jessie, child . . . Forgive me. I thought you were mine.” In taking her own life, Jessie has at last asserted her own individuality, declared her independence, and taken over her own existence.

Mama has never realized that Jessie has always been so alone and so lonely. She has also been under the impression that she simply “allows” Jessie to think that she is taking care of her to give Jessie an excuse to share her house; Mama now comes to the painful realization that she is truly dependent on Jessie. In a sense, the drama centers on Mama’s changing sense of herself, shifting perceptions of reality, and growing realization that Jessie means what she says about her life and her death; as the evening progresses, Mama attempts to think of “reasons” for Jessie to live as she comes to terms with the reality that she will surely die.

When the play opens, Jessie is busily making preparations to shoot herself. She then breaks the news to her mother that she intends to bid her goodnight for the last time in a couple of hours. She briskly answers her mother’s questions and responds to her mother’s objections. Then she begins her own explanation of why she plans to end her life. She says that she is not having a good time, that she is tired, hurt, sad, and feels used. She uses an example that she thinks Mama will understand; she says that her life is like an unpleasant bus ride and that she sees no reason to continue the ride for fifty more blocks when she can get off right then. She finally says that she might want to live if there was at least one thing she really liked—even cornflakes or rice pudding. In response, Thelma desperately tries to think of things that might interest Jessie. She suggests that they get a dog, that they take a taxi to the grocery store, that Jessie take a job, that she might try to get a driver’s license. Jessie patiently makes clear why it is too late for any of these suggestions to work; her bus ride ends at the next stop.

Then Jessie asks her mother a series of questions. Thelma becomes deeply and genuinely upset; as she attempts to give honest answers, the lack of communication and absence of understanding between them becomes painfully apparent. Thelma never has told Jessie that she has had “fits” all of her life, that her father also had “fits,” what she is like while she is having a seizure, or how she has been ashamed of her, has never loved her father, has been jealous of Jessie’s love for her father, and has blamed herself for Jessie’s “fits.” Jessie mentions looking at a baby picture of herself and seeing that she was somebody else. She points out that she is not really her mother’s child. She realizes that her “own self” is not going to show up and sees no reason to keep waiting for it to come.

Thelma finally faces the fact that she is afraid for Jessie to die because she is afraid to die herself; Jessie once again patiently explains to Mama that the uncertainty is the scary part and that she is certain that her own time has come and that she is not afraid. The turning point in the emotional drama comes as Mama then says that she cannot just sit there and tell her that it is acceptable to kill herself. Jessie replies that she just did.

After this, Jessie helps her mother think about the funeral plans, what she will wear, and what she will say to each person. Then she drills her mother on the specific steps she is to take that evening after she hears the shot. In the final minutes, Jessie takes her mother’s mind off what is going to happen by going through a box of her own belongings and telling her what to do with them. Then she says that it is time to go, and she goes.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 316

It is very difficult to face the possibility that there are women who have as little self-respect or reason to live as Jessie has, yet there are many lonely women who have no control over their lives or their bodies and who seem to have lost even the desire to assert themselves. The play causes one to ask whether suicide is valid in such situations. When Thelma points out to Jessie that suicide is a sin, Jessie immediately replies that, in a sense, Jesus committed suicide. Neither woman appears to have any real spiritual dimension; their concern with the funeral is social rather than religious—Jessie wants to help Thelma keep up appearances because she knows that this is important to her mother.

The play powerfully affirms how essential it is to value conventional rituals and to take pleasure in small things—even trivial things. The weekly manicure that Jessie usually gives to Thelma is the only thing they seem to share and to enjoy together. Jessie says that she has been looking forward to holding hands with her mother one last time. On this last Saturday evening, the manicure is pushed aside and overlooked; when Thelma says she is ready, Jessie says that it is now too late. They have waited too long to see the value in this shared activity.

The fact that Thelma does value seemingly insignificant and small pleasures (traditionally feminine ones) such as her cupcakes and candy treats, her weekly crossword puzzle, and her knitting, and that she looks forward to birthdays and visits from Dawson becomes her salvation. She will be able to go on and take care of herself because she sees meaning in what Jessie considers meaningless. The play compels the reader to take a serious look at the meaning and significance of small pleasures and to realize that they are the stuff from which existence is made.

Historical Context

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 895

Alienation, Isolation, and Anorexia Although the United States had more than 228 million people in the early 1980s, Americans still largely defined themselves as human beings who were self-reliant and in control of their own destiny. The search for autonomy in a country where government has become so huge and intrusive is a concern for many people. But the question of autonomy is of particular interest to women who by the last half of the twentieth century were attempting in large numbers to assert themselves as individuals One important issue for women occurred in the early 1980s, when the Equal Rights Amendment failed to be ratified. This sent a message to women that equality still remained an elusive factor in their lives. This is particularly evident in the increasing numbers of women who show symptoms of eating disorders. Women and young girls who suffer from anorexia or bulimia often cite the issue of control as a motivating factor in their eating patterns. In adopting anorexia as a means of control, women are often starving themselves to death. This is a passive means of suicide. A woman need not use a gun or another weapon such as pills; rather she can die through neglect. The intent is the same, but the means offers a long-term effort at assuming control. The correlation between anorexia and suicide is evident with Jessie, Much of 'night, Mother focuses on food but only with regard to Jessie's mother. Jessie does not consume the candy and junk food that permeates the Cates's home. In fact, Jessie's mother complains that Jessie never did like to eat. This line offers a clue that connects Jessie to other women trapped by anorexia: Jessie represents the image of a woman attempting to regain control.

Women Smokers Since women have historically been defined as property, first of their fathers and, later in life, of their husbands, it is perhaps understandable that modern women should seek a means to define themselves as free individuals. By the early 1980s, women smokers were out-numbering their male counterparts. This trend did not evolve out of any particular love for cigarettes. Instead women began smoking for a complex set of reasons. The image of success that is evoked by cigarette advertisers certainly played a role: women could share in the same successful world populated by men But another reason may have been that smoking represents choice. A primary argument to emerge from the women's struggle of the 1960s and 1970s was a woman's right to choose. Whether that choice involved birth control, employment, or smoking mattered little. In fact for women, smoking became a right that was not legislated and was not dependent on men. When Jessie is asked to choose between her husband and smoking, she chooses smoking. Quite simply, smoking became a freedom of choice that Jessie found lacking in her life; it represented autonomy in her life. Given the choice between smoking, which she decided to do on her own, and staying with Cecil, whom she married as a result of her mother's arrangments, Jessie opts for one of the few things she came to on her own.

Right to Die If anything, the right to die has become an even larger issue in the fifteen years since Norman wrote 'night, Mother. Technology and its ability to keep a body alive long after the brain ceases to function is an important impetus for those who claim the right to die. In 1981, the case of Karen Ann Quinlan was still recent news. Quinlan was a young woman who suffered major brain trauma. Although her brain was unable to monitor basic bodily fuctions such as breathing, life support machines kept her alive. Her family fought to have her life support withdrawn, arguing that Karen's quality of life was negligible. This issue has persisted in the 1990s with the prominence of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, a retired pathologist from Michigan who has assisted people in committing suicide if they are terminally ill or in chronic, unrelievable pain. Those who support right to death issues consistently state that it is a person's choice to end their own life if they deem it devoid of value. While Jessie is not terminally ill or brain dead, the manner in which she percieves her situation—through a cloud of depression—is analogous to those seeking euthanasia (which means merciful death): she feels that her quality of life is negligible. Jessie chooses to die, not because she is ill or mentally deficient in some manner, but because she has the right to choose. Norman makes clear in her text that there is no primary, reason for Jessie's choice. But what she does offer is a woman who chooses to act rather than be acted upon: there is no reason for Jessie to die except that she chooses to do so. In her neutral description of Jessie, Norman is creating a woman who could be anyone. She is also forcing her audience to question the choice of who has a right to die. The play inevitably evokes that discussion, since Norman has set her play in an indeterminate time and place. Again, Jessie's choice to commit suicide can be discussed within the larger issue of individual autonomy. Jessie could easily be lost as an individual. In deciding to die, she sets herself apart and creates an identity of her own.

Literary Style

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1177

'night, Mother occurs in real time. Jessie states her intention to commit suicide in the play's opening moments. The remainder of the play focuses on Jessie's preparations for death, her mother's efforts to dissuade her, and an examination of the emptiness and isolation of Jessie's life.

Act A major division in a drama. In classic Greek plays the sections of the drama were signified by the appearance of the chorus and were usually divided into five acts. This is the formula for most serious drama from the Greeks to the Romans, as well as to Elizabethan playwrights such as William Shakespeare. The five acts denote the structure of dramatic action. They are exposition, complication, climax, falling action, and catastrophe. The five act structure was followed until the nineteenth century when Henrik Ibsen combined some of the acts. 'night, Mother is a one act play. The exposition, complication, climax, falling action, and catastrophe are combined in one act when Jessie reveals her intention to kill herself. The drama—and the elements of the traditional five acts—plays out during the next ninety minutes.

Analogy Analogy is a comparison of two things. Often something unfamiliar is explained by comparing it to something familiar. In 'night, Mother Jessie uses the analogy of a bus trip for her future years as a means to explain why she is going to kill herself.

Character A character—by strict definition—is person in a dramatic work. The actions of each character are what constitute the story. Character can also include the idea of a particular individual's morality and other traits that shape and define their personality. Characters can range from simple stereotypical figures (a New York City cab driver or a brisk, smart-aleck waitress) to more complex ones. "Characterization" is the process of creating a life— forging a person from an author's imagination. To accomplish this the author provides the character with personality traits that help define who she will be and how she will behave in a given situation. For instance, Thelma is initially made to seem silly and helpless. As the action progresses, however, Thelma reveals that she is actually quite capable and rather than a doddering old woman, is a shrewd and calculating person.

Dialogue Dialogue is a conversation between two or more people. In 'night, Mother dialogue assumes the role of debate. Jessie and her mother engage in a debate over whether she is justified in planning a suicide. One important feature of this play is that the dialogue is realistic. Mothers and daughters (and others in close, long-term relationships) do talk in a sort of conversational short-hand that evolves over a number of years. Jessie and Thelma engage in just this sort of dialogue, which enhances the reality of the action rather than interfering with it.

Drama A drama is often defined as any work designed to be presented on the stage. It consists of a story, of actors portraying characters, and of action. But historically, drama can also consist of tragedy, comedy, religious pageant, and spectacle. In modern usage, a"drama'' (like the"Drama'' section of a video store) is something that explores serious topics and themes but does not achieve the same level as tragedy, 'night, Mother incorporates aspects of drama according to this definition, while also working in elements of tragedy.

Naturalism Naturalism was a literary movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is the application of scientific principles to literature. For instance, in nature behavior is determined by environmental pressures or internal factors, none of which can be controlled or even clearly understood. There is a clear cause and effect association: either the indifference of nature or biological determinism influence behavior. In either case, there is no human responsibility for the actions of the individual. European Naturalism emphasized biological determinism, while American Naturalism emphasized environmental influences. Jessie's realization that she has inherited her father's epilepsy is a component of naturalism.

Plot This term refers to a pattern of events that make up a story. Generally plots should have a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion, but they can sometimes be made of a series of episodes connected together (as director Quentin Tarantino did with his film Pulp Fiction, which strings a series of episodes into one larger plot). Basically, the plot provides the author with the means to explore primary themes. Students are often confused between the two terms; but themes explore ideas, and plots simply relate what happens in a very obvious manner. The plot of 'night, Mother revolves around Jessie's preparations to commit suicide. But the themes are those of identity, death, choice, and loneliness.

Realism Realism is a nineteenth century literary term that identifies an author's attempt to portray characters, events, and settings in a realistic way. Simply put, realism is attention to detail, with description intended to be honest and frank at all levels; at its best, realism will provoke recognition in an audience. There is an emphasis on character, especially behavior. In 'night, Mother, the dialogue between Thelma and Jessie is recognizable as real to the audience. These are events, people, and a home that, as Norman hopes, will be familiar to the audience. The living room and kitchen are similar to one found in most homes in America. Thelma is familiar to most women, and her fears of losing her daughter are universal.

Setting The time, place, and culture in which the action of the play takes place is called the setting. The elements of setting may include geographic location, physical or mental environments, prevailing cultural attitudes, or the historical time in which the action takes place. The location for 'night, Motheris an unnamed midwestern city. The action begins in the evening and concludes ninety minutes later; the one act takes place in the living room and kitchen of the Cates's residence. Norman's situation is created to be universal, so the time is relatively unimportant, and the location could be any town, the evening any evening. Norman states in her stage directions that she does not want either character identified by setting, dress, or regional accent. They are simply two women who could be anyone.

Unities The three unities of dramatic structure include unity of time, place, and action. The unities are generally credited to the Greek playwright Aristotle, who defined them in his Poetics. The "unity of time'' refers to all the action taking place within one twenty-four hour period. Since 'night, Mother takes place during a ninety minute period without intermission, this play adheres to the unity of time. The "unity of place'' limits the action to one location, in this case, the Cates's living room and kitchen. The most important is the "unity of action.'' The action should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In 'night, Mother the action begins with Jessie's announcement that she will commit suicide. The middle details her mother's attempts to dissuade her and her preparations for death; the end is the shot that concludes the play. Thus 'night, Mother adheres to all three unities.

Media Adaptations

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 93

'night, Mother was adapted for film in 1986, with a screenplay by Norman and directed by Tom Moore. The film starred Sissy Spacek as Jessie and Anne Bancroft as Thelma. Although produced by Aaron Spelling, who is best known for melodramatic television series such as Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place, the film is true to the content of Norman's original text. Criticism has centered on Spacek and Bancroft as too glamorous to portray the simple, average women depicted in the play. The film received mixed reviews. It is available from MCA/Universal Home Video.

Bibliography and Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 516

FURTHER READING Brown, Linda Ginter, Editor Marsha Norman: A Casebook, Garland (New York), 1996. This is a collection of essays that explore different aspects of Norman's work. The collection includes essays on the Norman plays 'night, Mother, Getting Out, Third and Oak, The Holdup, Traveler in the Dark, Sarah and Abraham, and The Secret Garden.

Burkman, Katherme H. "The Demeter Myth and Doubling in Marsha Norman's 'night, Mother" in Modem American Drama: The Female Canon, edited by June Schlueter, Faileigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. p 254-63. Burkman examines the nature of the mother-daughter relationship in 'night, Mother by comparing Jessie and Thelma to the mythic Demeter and Persephone.

DeMastes, William W. "Jessie and Thelma Revisited: Marsha Norman's Conceptual Challenge in 'night, Mother" in Modern Drama, Vol. 36, no 1,1993, pp 109-19. DeMastes examines feminist criticism of Norman's play and concludes that feminist who have condemned the play as subordinate to male constructs of realism should take another look at the play, which demonstrates that feminist writers can use realism to tell a woman's story.

Hart, Lynda. "Doing Time: Hunger for Power in Marsha Norman's Plays" in Southern Quarterly, Vol. 25, no 3, Spring, 1987, pp. 67-79. Hart examines how food and the hunger to escape a repressive and oppressive life are central to several of Norman's plays. Among the plays she examines are 'night, Mother and Getting Out.

Henry, William A "Reinventing the Classic" in Time, February 7,1983, pp. 85. Henry offers a positive review of Norman's play that commends the dialogue and the casting of Kathy Bates as Jessie.

Morrow, Laura "Orality and Identity in 'night, Mother and Crimes of the Heart" in Studies in American Drama Vol. 3, 1988, pp 23-39. Morrow examines the relationship between mothers and daughters and the search by daughters to create an identity separate from their mother's. The author compares these two plays and concludes that food and orality are important devices for both Norman's play and Beth Henley's Crimes of the Heart.

Smith, Raynette Halvorsen "'night, Mother and True West: Mirror Images of Violence and Gender" in Violence in Drama, edited by James Redmond, Cambridge University Press, 1991. pp. 277-89. Smith claims that violence and gender stereotyping in both Norman's play and Sam Shepard's True West function to deconstruct gender myths of feminine masochism of which both Norman and Shepard have been accused.

Spencer, Jenny S. "Norman's 'night, Mother. Psycho-drama of Female Identity'' in Modern Drama, Vol. 30, no. 3, September, 1987, pp. 364-75. Spencer explores Jessie's struggle to establish her own identity, one separate from her father, husband, son, and mother. Spencer concludes that Norman's play is more about mothers and daughters and female autonomy than it is about suicide.

Wolfe, Irmgard H. "Marsha Norman" in American Playwrights since 1945- A Guide to Scholarship, Criticism, and Performance, edited by Philip C Kolin, Greenwood, 1989. p 339-48. Wofle provides a production history, including excerpts from reviews of Norman's plays A bibliography is also included.

SOURCES Gilman, Richard "Review of 'night, Mother" in the Nation May 7,1983, pp 585-86.

Kauffman, Stanley. "More Trick than Tragedy" in the Saturday Review, Vol 9, no. 10, September-October, 1983, pp. 47-48.

Smith, Patricia Keeney. "Theatre of Extremity" in Canadian Forum, April, 1985, pp 37-40.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 612

Betsko, Kathleen, and Rachel Koenig. Interviews with Contemporary Women Playwrights. New York: William Morrow, 1987.

Browder, Sally. “ ‘I Thought You Were Mine’: Marsha Norman’s ’night, Mother.” In Mother Puzzles: Daughters and Mothers in Contemporary American Literature, edited by Mickey Pearlman. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989. This article looks at Jessie’s reliance on her mother, Thelma’s reliance on her daughter, and what impact these relationships have on the self-concept of each woman.

Burkman, Katherine H. “The Demeter Myth and Doubling in Marsha Norman’s ’night, Mother.” In Modern American Drama: The Female Canon, edited by June Schlueter. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. A psychological exploration of the relationship between mother and daughter that traces ’night, Mother to the ancient Greek myth of Demeter and Kore.

Demastes, William W. “Jessie and Thelma Revisited: Marsha Norman’s Conceptual Challenge in ’night, Mother.” Modern Drama 36, no. 1 (1993): 109-120. Demastes suggests that, although it is a realistic social drama, the play attacks the established order and denies understanding.

Gill, Brendan. Review in The New Yorker. LXVI (April 11, 1983), p. 109.

Grieff, Louis K. “Fathers, Daughters, and Spiritual Sisters: Marsha Norman’s ’night, Mother and Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie.” Text and Performance Quarterly 9, no. 3 (1989): 224-228. The focus of this study is the relationship of the emotionally crippled daughter with her long-absent father.

Gross, Amy. “Marsha Norman.” Vogue 173 (July, 1983): 200-201, 256-258. A general interview article that discusses Norman’s views on ’night, Mother.

Harriott, Esther. American Voices: Five Contemporary Playwrights in Essays and Interviews. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1988.

Hart, Lynda, ed. Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Woman’s Theatre. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989.

Kane, Leslie. “The Way Out, the Way In: Paths to Self in the Plays of Marsha Norman.” In Feminine Focus: The New Women Playwrights, edited by Enoch Brater. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1989. This article compares the mother-child relationships and the development of self in ’night, Mother to similar concepts examined in Norman’s other plays.

Morrow, Laura. “Orality and Identity in ’night, Mother and Crimes of the Heart.” Studies in American Drama 3 (1988): 23-39. This study examines the relationship of orality in the development of female identity in Norman’s play and compares it to Beth Henley’s play.

The New York Times Magazine. Review. May 1, 1983, p. 22.

Porter, Laurin R. “Woman Re-Conceived: Changing Perceptions of Women in Contemporary American Drama.” Conference of College Teachers of English Studies 54 (1989): 53-59. This journal article provides a comparison of the play to Crimes of the Heart and Agnes of God.

Savran, David. In Their Own Words: Contemporary American Playwrights. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1988.

Smith, Raynette Halvorsen. “ ’night, Mother and True West: Mirror Images of Violence and Gender.” In Violence in Drama, edited by James Redmond. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Smith compares Norman’s and Sam Shepard’s treatment of violence in relationship to gender.

Spencer, Jenny S. “Marsha Norman’s She Tragedies.” In Making a Spectacle: Feminist Essays on Contemporary Women’s Theatre, edited by Lynda Hart. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press, 1989. A feminist reading of Norman’s dramas in which ’night, Mother is seen as a drama of feminine passivity.

Spencer, Jenny S. “Norman’s ’night, Mother: Psycho-Drama of Female Identity.” Modern Drama 30, no. 3 (1987): 364-375. Takes a psychological approach in comparing the audience response of men to the play with the audience response of women.

Stone, Elizabeth. “Playwright Marsha Norman: An Optimist Writes About Suicide, Confinement, and Despair.” Ms. 102 (July, 1983): 56-59. An interview of Norman in which she explains Jessie’s relationship to her mother, Jessie’s suicide, and other aspects of ’night, Mother.

Tweeton, Leslie. “Art for Art’s Sake: The American Repertory Theatre,” in Boston Magazine. LXXVI (February, 1984), p. 23.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide