Marsha Norman

– A Review Essay, Research Paper

The play night, Mother written by Marsha Norman is not in itself written to be about suicide, but rather it tries to focus on the relationship between the mother and daughter. The fact that the daughter commits suicide at the end is only an incident that happens at the end of the play. This is a fact that some people have missed including some writers whose job it is to review films and plays. Jenny Spencer has addresses this, and has concluded that men may have trouble relating to the characters and the theme of the play. This happens to be the case with Stanley Kauffman in his review of the movie, which was made on an adaptation by Marsha Norman of the play. The play tells the story of a young woman s decision to finally take control her own life. This young woman, Jessie is the daughter of Thelma, and these are the only two characters that are in the play. There are other characters in the story such as Jessie s ex-husband Cecil and her brother Dawson, who are solely secondary characters that do not make an appearance in the play itself. However, they are often mentioned in the dialogue between Jessie and Thelma. The setting is also quite basic as the entire play takes place in the living room and the kitchen of the house that the mother and daughter both share. An interesting part of the play is that it is meant to take place over a ninety minute period in the story, and also in ninety minutes of real time when the play is done live for an audience. In the play, we learn that Jessie is a woman who has been left by her husband, and that she also has a teenage son who has been caught on the wrong side of the law. She has had a need to have people around her to keep her life functioning and to keep her occupied. Her brother Dawson has played an important role in her life, because he has taken care of her financially and supported her in other ways as well. She does not have any positive expectations about her future and does not like the life she has lived up to this point in her life. Even though she does have a loving relationship with her mother, she has decided to take her life and also to tell her mother ninety minutes before she is going to commit the act. Jessie s mother, Thelma is an elderly woman who needs a lot of help around the house, and depends on Jessie and Dawson to provide it. She has done much to hurt Jessie in the past, such as hiding the truth about Jessie s epileptic seizures, hiding certain truth s about her father from her, and scheming to find her a husband. She is the kind of person who expects their say to be the final say on any matter, and expects everyone to go along with them and their beliefs. She is the kind of person who thinks that they never make a mistake, and someone who thinks that they have no flaws whatsoever to talk about. Jenny Spencer takes the position that males who watch the play will not be able to relate to either character in the play. She writes, men may more easily approach the problems addressed in the play in broadly thematic or symbolic terms: (line 14) She further argues that Marsha Norman subconsciously addresses the female audience through her writing, and this creates even further distance between the male and female audiences of the play. Jenny Spencer feels that the play as written is out of the grasp of males emotionally, but well within the boundaries of a female s emotional understanding especially of the relationship between the mother and daughter. This approach by the author starts right at the beginning of the play, and continues throughout the play. For example, Jessie is looking for her father s old gun at the beginning of the play. Thelma asks her why she s looking for it, and Jessie responds, protection. (page 1553, line 7) They continue to have a conversation where they are both trying to be cunning and manipulative, because both of them are trying to control the actions of each other without the other knowing. Thelma tries using Dawson as an excuse to keep Jessie from going into the attic to get the gun, and therefore she s trying to treat Jessie as if she s still a child. Meanwhile, Jessie is trying to get Thelma to wash up so she can do her nails, which would give her time to find the gun without getting interrupted by her mother.

According to Jenny Spencer’s argument, males would probably not see the power struggle that is already happening in the opening of the play. They may be more aptly to perceive this as being a simple conversation between the mother and daughter, and nothing else. So, instead of seeing this play as being a woman s final attempt to use everything at her disposal to get certain truths out of her mother, males probably will see this play as being a long drawn out story about the final ninety minutes of a woman s life before committing suicide. Stanley Kauffman s movie review expresses a view about the movie adaptation of the play that supports Jenny Spencer s claim concerning the male s perception of the play. Stanley Kauffman writes, it remains an artificiality, a stunt, which is so proud of its clever shape that in the end pallid cleverness is all it has to offer. He suggests throughout his review that the movie/play is nothing more than a clever idea about a daughter living out the final ninety minutes of her life before committing suicide by readying her mother for her death. Kauffman argues that this whole scenario is implausible because any normal person would have had a lot more resolve to stop Jessie from committing suicide than Thelma shows in the movie/play. In Kauffman s defense, there are parts in the play when Thelma has suitable moments to do something that would keep Jessie from killing herself. For instance, Thelma has a phone in her hands several times during the play, but as the play progresses she finds that she has less and less strength to even pick up the receiver. He believes that a normal person who have enough resolution to pick up the phone and call for help if they truly loved Jessie. However, I m sure Jenny Spencer would feel that there is some deeper meaning to Thelma s reluctance to call for help, such as Thelma finally letting go of Jessie to live her life her own way even if it means committing suicide. This play is a good example of how two different types of people can observe something, and get totally different opinions of it. Jenny Spencer wrote an article, which argues that males cannot relate to the emotional undertones that encompass this play. On the other hand, Stanley Kauffman feels that this play is nothing more than a clever idea full of holes in the story, and that it does not have much to offer to the viewer. Therefore, a conclusion could be made that males are not likely not to understand and see the struggle that takes place between the mother and daughter and the strained relationship that they have.


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