All the Years of Her Life

by Morley Callaghan

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Why does Mrs. Higgins in "All the Years of Her Life" refer to "son" and what emotional effect does it have?

Quick answer:

Mrs. Higgins says “son” at this juncture because she is ready to make her final plea to Mr. Carr to let Alfred go home with her and wants the angry store owner softened up. “Son” has an emotional effect that other words do not because it emphasizes the strong, special, and loving bond between a mother and her child.

Expert Answers

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The word son appears six times in this short story, but Mrs. Higgins uses it only once. She says "son" because it is a word with a positive emotional connotation. It has the effect of emphasizing her closeness to Alfred, and as the words mother and son are often paired, it conveys the intensity of her maternal concern and love for Alfred. The word "son" has a more poignant emotional effect that other words she uses, such as "boy," because of the special bond that having a son implies.

It is useful for Mrs. Higgins to bring out the word at this time, as she is softening up the store owner, Mr. Carr, who has been impressed from the start with her poise, for her final plea that he let Alfred go home with her, rather than be handed over to the police for shoplifting. She is moving to close the "deal" and wants to use the most emotionally powerful word she can find to motivate Mr. Carr to sympathize with her as a loving mother, even if he feels angry at her son.

The ploy works, and we see how much of a performance Mrs. Higgins engaged in to get Alfred off the hook when she speaks to him harshly on the walk home.

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