Night Mother is a play that is set to portray a mother-daughter relationship as well the drastic decisions caused by the hardships in life especially when living with a health condition.
The play features Jessie, a middle-aged woman who is living with her mother Thelma after she got divorced. The play begins when the two women are having a conversation in the kitchen and Jessie suddenly tells her mother that she is going to commit suicide but Thelma disregards her. As the conversation ensues, the mother realizes that Jessie is serious about killing herself and tries to distract her. Jessie feels that she has no control over her life and that her mother allowed her to stay at her house only because she is lonely and needs company. She is further devastated as she is unemployed and divorced and further her epileptic condition is the sole reason why she cannot achieve anything positive in life. Further, she is a failure as her own son is a delinquent and that she chose to continue smoking over marriage.
As the two women share their frustrations mostly as the mother attempts to distract her daughter from committing suicide, it is revealed that Jessie and Thelma loves one another but the daughter still finds no stray of hope in her life. Thelma confesses her undying love for Jessie despite the loneliness after her husband died and that her son Dawson never visits anymore. However, Jessie feels that her mother’s love is not enough to keep her living and due to her epileptic condition among other shortcomings, she feels that her life will be the same even fifty years to come. As a result, she disregards her mother’s pleas, locks herself in a room and a gunshot is heard later on.
The play presents a series of themes especially epilepsy, the choice to die with dignity, and alienation. Jessie feels that she has failed in many ways from being a wife, a mother, a daughter and more specifically the failing to be in control of her own life. In addition to her epileptic condition, Jessie feels that taking her own life is the only way to end her miseries which are bound to haunt her entire life. Further, Jessie has many chances of developing a positive relationship with the people around her but rather chooses to alienate herself to the extent of committing suicide. Instead of choosing her husband, she rather chose her smoking addiction and also went on to take her life despite her mother confessing how much she actually loved her. The alienation makes the audience question whether her health condition could have contributed to her miseries in life or whether it is just a result of the identity dysphoria that had driven her into making wrong decisions.
Norman uses various literary devises to set the mood of the play that is characterized by tragic decisions as a result of the main actor’s inability to control her own life. For instance, the use of old towels and pillows to make the suicide less messy could symbolize the fact that Jessie does not want her mother to be affected by the act while using dad’s gun to commit suicide could symbolize her desire to reunite with her father after she is dead. In addition, the presence of epileptic fits could represent Jessie’s inability to control her life as her own body acts without her consent. Setting the play in suspense further creates curiosity while the use of dramatic devices such as the comic relief makes the play less monotonous and interesting to follow through the final act.