Grace Paley, "Mother"

“Mother” by Grace Paley (p.50,51)

The Jewish Grace Paley was born in 1922 and grew up in the Bronx, New York.
Quite dedicated in the civil rights movement she started writing short stories in the fifties. Additionally, Paley was involved in the women’s- and the peace movement.
She wrote a number of short stories but got never done a whole book.
Her stories contain mostly daily people from different ethnic groups, especially of the Jewish population. Grace Paley often tells her stories in an ironical sound and perspective of a female narrator.

Summary and Interpretation:

The story “Mother” by Grace Paley is told by a daughter, we assume, who misses her dead mother. She mentions several times that she wishes she could see her mother in the doorway one more time, like she used to before her mom passed away (p.50, ll.6/7). Additionally, she has different flashbacks of certain moments she experienced with her mother. Always caring about what will happen to her daughter in the future is how she kept her mother in mind (p.50 ll.21/22). The sentence “Then she died”, which refers to the mother’s passing, occurs here for the first time (p.50, l.23). Regretting her mum had to die in a time where she still had to worry about her daughter so much, she wants her mom to see her now and notice what she’s done with her life and that she’s able to take care of herself.
Despite the fact that her mother isn’t alive anymore, she imagines her whole family being together in the living room (p.51, ll.4-10). The pictured scenery appears to her like it has just taken place. That’s the reason why she wants her mother back. The daughter has the opinion that she would have a happy, complete, perfect family again.
In the last two paragraphs she pictures a scene between her mom and her dad. They are sitting together, having lack of communication because her mum wants to talk to her husband but he would prefer just to get some rest after his workday (p.51, ll.16/17).
After all, the young woman realizes that her family has never been perfect even when her mother was still alive. Consequently, the phrase “Then she died” (p.51, l. 19) appears again probably for the reason that she finally accepts the fact that her mother is dead. She becomes aware that things didn’t just become bad because of her mum’s absence. They haven’t been the greatest before either.

Stylistic devices:

The author uses different stylistic devices in order to make the story more effective. With the obvious rhetorical question “what will become of you?” (p.50, ll.21/22) the mother wants to express her concern about her daughter’s future. Being aware of the fact that she’s going to die, the mother points out with that question that she wants her daughter to get up and change herself. The reader gets the impression that the mother really cares about her daughter although she isn’t trying very hard to achieve the expectations of her mother (p.50, ll.9-11)
Another striking stylistic device amongst others is when the father complains about his work. He uses a repetition of the word “talk”. It occurs four times in the last paragraph (p.51, l.17). The father responds to his wife’s demand to talk with these words, but he actually does the contrary of the words’ meaning (p.51, ll.17/18). As a result, he says the words “talk talk talk talk” (p.51, l.17) back-to-back but, nevertheless, still doesn’t talk to her which is rather ironic.


The first thing which is very conspicuous for Grace Paley’s language is that she leaves all the quotation marks in her direct speeches out. She might do this to point out that the scenes are just the narrator’s flashbacks and don’t happen in the present. Secondly, the author expresses herself in quite simple words, and keeps her sentences relatively clear and brief.


The general message of the text is about a relationship between a mother and a daughter. It’s not rare that girls just start to appreciate their mothers once they’re on their own. Like it is in the story, most don’t take much of their mothers’ advice, but later they realize how their mom made the family complete and how much they needed her.

Work Cited:

Paley, Grace. "Mother". Short Short Stories Universal. Ed. Reingard M. Nischik. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2005.

Source of picture:

The newsletter for the society for women in philosophy, Fall 2007. Accessed: 10 January 2009. www.uga.edu/iws/swipnews/archives/memorials_f07.html.

Jessica B. and Nina

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