’night Mother by Marsha Norman is a thought provoking play. The entire drama is contained in the single act of the mother (Mama) and daughter (Jessie) talking. The subject of their conversation surrounds the casual yet sudden announcement by Jessie that she is going to end her life. One of the hallmarks of good theatre is depth of characterization. In ‘night Mother we find rich psychological profiles of the two main characters. The play also excels in another measure, namely, its minimalism. Just through a single day’s conversation between a mother and a daughter, the playwright is able to paint a rich persona and emotional tapestries of the main characters. By articulating the psychological motivations for their thoughts and actions, Marsha Norman is able to showcase the characters’ depth. Norman’s plays, including ‘Night Mother, feature recurring themes. Some prominent themes are:
“the relationship between parent and child, usually mother and daughter; the inescapable encroachment of the past the present; and, perhaps most tellingly, the struggle between rationalism and faith. The plays encourage the possibility of religious faith, but with choice as an essential ingredient: Faith — like feminism — demands autonomy.” (Coen, 1992, p.22)
In ‘Night Mother, we see all of these themes at work. There are also references to Christianity and Jesus Christ, but the author keeps them at the periphery of the main narrative. Likewise, monologues are employed to capture the character and personality of the speaker. In ‘night Mother monologues serve as key devices for improving the theatrical and dramatic effect of the play. Through this device, we learn how, Jessie, despite her drastic resolution to end her life, is actually trying to gain control over her life. This is a reflection of how things outside her circle of influence have straddled on her will, autonomy and dignity. (The Christian Science Monitor, 2004, p.15)
Through the exposition of the particular life circumstances of Jessie and her mother, Marsha Norman is treating universal human concerns. For example, one of the main reasons why Jessie decides to end her life is the deep sense of loneliness and helplessness she experiences frequently. She makes it clear to her mother that her company doesn’t alleviate her loneliness even a little. Jessie’s physical ailment in the form of epilepsy has led to a restricted lifestyle and limited job opportunities. These in turn have created numerous frustrations for her, which have led to frequent bouts of depression and suicidal ideation. But Jessie’s is not an unusual case in modern society. In America today, tens of millions of psychiatric prescriptions get written each year. People go through a high degree of stress in their workplaces. The work-life balance is often skewered in favour of the former. The institutions of family and marriage are falling apart gradually. In such a society, people increasing feel alienated, confused and desperate. When health complications like that faced by Jessie are added to the mix, life does appear hopeless and bleak. What Martha Norman seems to be suggesting is that Jessie’s life is a symbol of a broader social fact. In this vein, ‘Night Mother is a poignant dissection into modern human condition.
Through the past and present lives of Jessie and her mother, a ‘bi-regional’ perspective is evidenced in the play. The bi-regional perspective in ‘Night, Mother is found in the