Mother by Grace Paley
In Mother by Grace Paley we have the theme of connection, loneliness, regret, struggle, freedom, loss and acceptance. Taken from her The Collected Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed woman and after reading the story the reader realises that Paley may be exploring the theme of connection. Despite the fact that the narrator’s mother has died the narrator still feels a strong connection to her. In fact there is a sense that the narrator would like one more moment with her mother. Which may leave some readers to suspect that the narrator has never really gotten over the loss of her mother. It is as though the narrator has regrets and there is a void in her life since her mother’s death. If anything the narrator may be lonely. Paley’s choice of the narrator wanting to see her mother in a doorway might also have some symbolical significance. Just as a person might go in and out through a doorway there is a sense that the narrator’s mother is neither in nor out of the narrator’s life. She is not physically in the narrator’s life any more but neither is she out of the narrator’s life. Living on in the narrator’s memories.
There is also a sense that the narrator’s parents’ have a connection with one another. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Paley has both characters sitting side by side listening to music. Though very little is said there may not be any need for anything to be said. At least that is how the narrator’s father feels when the narrator’s mother wishes to speak to her husband. There is also a sense that the narrator’s parents have struggled but that they have made a success out of their lives in America. In many ways the struggle that the narrator’s parents went through on their arrival in America is mirrored by the narrator’s struggles to want to reconnect with her mother. The fact that the mother knows that she is dying and seems to accept it is interesting as this would suggest that the mother is strong. Similarly the mother on no occasion that the narrator mentions. Loses her temper with the narrator. She might not like what the narrator is doing but she does not seem to judge the narrator. This in itself might have strengthened the narrator’s connection with her mother.
It is as though the narrator’s mother is allowing the narrator the freedom to live her life. Possibly because she knows what it is like to have her freedom taken away (in Russia). In reality Paley may be alluding to the American dream. The narrator’s parents left Russia. Had to start all over again. Successfully managed to learn English and find work and raise the narrator (and possibly other children) in an environment which was foreign to them. The sense of freedom that they themselves felt in America has been passed on to the narrator. What is also interesting about one of the narrator’s memories of her mother is that she did not criticize the narrator for having opposing views when it came to Communism. This may be important as again the narrator’s mother is allowing the narrator to be free to think for herself. She may not necessarily agree with the narrator but she still allows her to have her opinion. This might be something that the narrator misses. Having another person that she can talk to even if their ideals are conflicting.
If anything the narrator’s mother may have been astute enough to know that a child, which the narrator was at the time, should be allowed the time and space to formulate an idea. Change their mind if they like and generally grow as a person. It may also be a case that the narrator feels as though when her mother died a part of her died too. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that the narrator does not appear to have had the same type of relationship with her father. Which may leave many readers to suggest that Paley is exploring the close connection between both mothers and daughters. A bond that would be very different to that of a father and daughter. It might also be important that on two occasions in the story Paley tells the reader ‘Then she died.’ Though it is clear what is meant by this line the fact that it is used twice suggests that the death of the narrator’s mother had a severe impact on the narrator. It is as though things came to an end and all the narrator is left with is her memories. Something that might be difficult for the narrator to come to terms with. She may have not only lost her mother but she might have also lost someone who never judged her.