“philosophical intersection of Midwest and South, though the regional poles are never identified as such or specifically grounded in either history or tradition. ‘night, Mother enacts a more existential impasse that never gets resolved. In order to understand the fascinating bi-regionality of this award-winning play, we must position its characters, themes, and world-views in the context of two distinct American sub-cultures. ‘night, Mother showcases a stark conflict between world views, both “epistemological and ontological,” grounded in disparate geographic traditions.” (Radavich, 2011, p.116)
For example, Jessie and her mother espouse very different social perspectives which are rooted in regional sensibilities. This abrasion of the Midwest with the South produces interesting dramatic outcomes as they play directly against one another. Indeed, ‘Night, Mother has this conflict at its core, though the author doesn’t dwell on cultural differences. Instead, the focus is more on the personal differences the characters’ regional backgrounds lend them. Interestingly, “this seemingly unconscious juxtaposition may result in large measure from Louisville’s [where the play is set] own double-sided perspective as a geographical melding of Midwest and South.” (Radavich, 2011, p.115)
The manner of construction of dialogues and monologues help dramatize this conflict. For instance, Jessie’s announcement to her mother about her impending suicide is concluded with the remark “I can’t say it any better” (28). This suggests her perceived inadequacy with language. The descriptions of her mother and father are consistent with the literary and cultural traditions of the American Midwest. For example, her late father is remembered as “Big old faded blue man in the chair” who liked to spend time thinking about “His corn. His boots.”. (47) Her mother, on the other hand, is a typical Southern housewife, in that she is very chatty and curious. Her mother is also one who is indirect and tactful, a quality symbolized by her love of all things sweet tasting.
It is fair to claim that ‘Night Mother is deeply concerned with the human condition on account of it “helping to open up a national dialogue about forbidden issues”. (The Christian Science Monitor, 2004, p.15) Two of these key issues are suicide and to a lesser extent epilepsy. In fact, if the play were written now,
“Jessie’s decision to exert control over her life by choosing her right to die would undoubtedly be judged in the context of the “how to” suicide manual Final Exit, and Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who made headlines recently as a proponent of doctor-assisted suicide.” (Coen, 1992, p.22)
Finally, while admitting the several positive features of the play, most important of which being its psychological probity and concern for the human condition, one of its flaws should be pointed as well. For example, feminists received the play somewhat ambiguously, with many uncomfortable with the easy choice of suicide as a solution to women’s problems. This, feminists perceived as a rather tame response, especially in the backdrop of the absence of supportive male characters for Jessie. For example, she is divorced from her husband, estranged from her brother; her father is dead and her son is delinquent. (Coen, 1992, p.23)
“Answering the Unanswerable.” The Christian Science Monitor 5 Nov. 2004: 15.
Coen, Stephanie. “Marsha Norman’s Triple Play.” American Theatre Mar. 1992: 22+.
Radavich, David. “Marsha Norman’s Bi-Regional Vision in “Night, Mother.” The Mississippi Quarterly 64.1-2 (2011): 115+.