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Theatre / 'night, Mother

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'night, Mother is a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1983 play by Marsha Norman.

The only two characters in the play are Jessie Cates and her mother Thelma. Jessie is in "her late thirties or early forties". Her life has not turned out very well. She's divorced (her ex-husband left her for a neighbor's daughter), she's epileptic, and she's living with her mother because her health keeps her from holding a job. Her son is a runaway (whereabouts unknown) drug-addled, shiftless petty thief. She's now stuck playing nursemaid to Thelma, who takes her for granted.

Jessie casually asks for her father's old gun. When she gets it she calmly announces that she will kill herself. Thelma doesn't take this very seriously at first, but soon realizes that Jessie is not kidding.

Kathy Bates played Jessie in the original stage production. A film adaptation was released in 1986, written by Norman, directed by Tom Moore, and starring Sissy Spacek as Jessie and Anne Bancroft as Thelma.


  • Dissonant Serenity: Jessie throughout the play, offering to do her mother's nails, telling her mother how to order groceries over the phone, and puttering about the house casually, after announcing she's going to commit suicide.
  • Downer Ending: Jessie does, in fact, shoot herself.
  • Driven to Suicide: Feeling like she has nothing good in her life and nothing to live for, Jessie kills herself. She even says at one point that she wouldn't have done it if she could think of one thing she liked.
  • Flat "What": Jessie says she knows Mama liked the preacher who did Jessie's father's funeral, so Thelma can get the same one to do Jessie's. Thelma's answer?
    Thelma (not an answer, just a word): What.
  • The Ghost: Everybody else that Jessie and Thelma talk about at length — Thelma's friend Agnes, Jessie's ex-husband Cecil and reprobate son Ricky, Jessie's brother (and Thelma's son) Dawson and his wife Loretta, both of whom she dislikes. (The film adaptation does have appearances by Agnes, Dawson, Loretta, and their two children, but only very minimally.)
  • Minimalist Cast: Only two characters.
  • Real Time: The opening stage direction says "Clocks onstage in the kitchen and on a table in the living room should run throughout the performance and be visible by the audience. There will be no intermission."
  • Title Drop: The title is Jessie's last line of dialogue before she goes into her bedroom and shoots herself.

Alternative Title(s): Night Mother