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Night Mother Essay Questions

Metzger holds a Ph.D. and has a strong background in literature and drama education. In this essay she discusses issues of identity and autonomy.

A critical issue in 'night, Mother is the relationship between Jessie and her mother, Thelma. It is evident in Jessie's preparations for her suicide that she regards herself as her mother's primary caretaker. Jessie is responsible for her mother's diet, for the maintenance of the home, and for her mother's health, or so her Thelma lets her believe. In assuming so much control over her mother, Jessie has reversed the mother-daughter relationship and has become a mother to her own mother. It is little wonder, then, that she cannot-imagine an identity separate from her mother's. In deciding that she will kill herself, Jessie is finally establishing an identity of her own and setting a boundary between them that her mother cannot...

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This intense drama, Marsha Norman’s first play, opened on Broadway in March, 1983. It was awarded the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for drama. The long conversation between mother and daughter demonstrates the fact that a mother can live in the same house with her daughter and think she knows her quite well while she actually knows very little about her. Jessie understands herself quite well; on this last evening of her life, she talks more than she ever has and demonstrates for the first time a sense of determination and purpose, a peaceful energy, her newly discovered self-confidence, and a “quirky” sense of humor that has never amused anyone except herself. She firmly believes that her decision to commit suicide is the best one she has ever made and that it is right for her. She also seems to be confident that her mother is capable of taking care of herself and that she will be better off doing so.

The previous lack of communication between the two is perhaps the major theme of the play. It is ironic that a woman who talks as much as Thelma has neglected to say so many truly meaningful things. Jessie has never asked questions, shared her opinions, or chosen to talk to anyone except her father. When Thelma asks what the two of them whispered about, Jessie replies that they were discussing important things such as why black socks are warmer than blue socks. Jessie has been very secure with her father’s habit of just sitting, of being quiet, and of not doing anything; Thelma has never understood it. In making strings of paper “boyfriends” and animals for Jessie, her father has given her the only memory of her childhood that she seems to value.

Thelma has a deep lack of self-confidence that becomes apparent for the first...

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