Breaking Night

by

Liz Murray

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Jean Murray—who Liz Murray always refers to as “Ma”—is a complex, tragic character. A attractive and intelligent young woman, she comes from a family with a long history of mental illness, and at several points in the book Liz implies that Ma has schizophrenia. Ma also becomes more dependent on drugs after she meets Liz’s father, Peter Finnerty. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, she and Peter become full-fledged addicts and continue to using cocaine and other drugs as they raise their two young girls. Ma is, in many ways, a bad parent: she steals money from her own children to pay for drugs, and she often abandons her children for days at a time. Yet in other ways, Liz depicts Ma as a sympathetic character, albeit one who Liz often resents. Ma often expresses sincere love for her children, but her love is undercut by, first, her dependence on drugs and, second, nervous breakdowns brought on by mental illness. In many ways, Jean Murray is a child—so that, ironically, it’s often Liz who has to take care of her mother, not the other way around. After Jean’s death from AIDS in the 1990s, Liz begins to come to terms with her mother: she recognizes that her mother cared about her and wanted her to be happy, but she continues to fault her for hurtful and neglectful behavior.

Ma / Jean Murray Quotes in Breaking Night

The Breaking Night quotes below are all either spoken by Ma / Jean Murray or refer to Ma / Jean Murray. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Willpower and Independence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Hachette Books edition of Breaking Night published in 2011.
Prologue Quotes

I force my thoughts to fade until the details of her face blur. I need to push them away if I am ever to get some sleep. I need sleep; it will be only a few more hours before I'm outside on the street again, with nowhere to go.

Related Characters: Elizabeth “Liz” Murray (speaker), Ma / Jean Murray
Related Symbols: The Photograph of Ma
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 1 Quotes

I raised my arms into the air, and gave a singsong, 'Al-l-l do-ne."
Taken off guard, Ma paused, leaned in and asked disbelievingly, "What did you say, pumpkin?”
“A-l-l-l done," I repeated, delighted at Ma's sudden interest.
She yelled for Daddy. "Peter, she knows! Look at her, she understands!"

Related Characters: Elizabeth “Liz” Murray (speaker), Ma / Jean Murray (speaker), Daddy / Peter Finnerty
Page Number: 13-14
Explanation and Analysis:

Lisa and I dined on Happy Meals in front of the black-and-white TV, to the sound of spoons clanking on the nearby table, chairs being pulled in—and those elongated moments of silence when we knew what they were concentrating on. Daddy had to do it for Ma because with her bad eyesight she could never find a vein.

Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

When she returned home half an hour later with a nickel bag, I was furious with her. I demanded that she give me my money, and I shouted mean words at her that are hard for me to think about now. Ma said nothing back. She snatched up her works—syringe and cocaine—from the kitchen table and stormed to the bathroom. I trailed behind her, shouting harsh things. I assumed that she was running away from me to get high in privacy, but I was wrong. Instead, from the bathroom doorway, I saw Ma throw something into the toilet. Then I realized she was crying, and what she had flushed down the toilet was her coke.
She'd thrown away the entire hit—despite her desperation.
She looked at me with tears in her eyes, "I'm not a monster, Lizzy," she said. "I can't stop. Forgive me, pumpkin!”

Related Characters: Elizabeth “Liz” Murray (speaker), Ma / Jean Murray (speaker)
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

The fun part of the night would always come when Ma's past occurred to her as a positive thing, a sort of adventure. But I knew this was temporary, a side effect of her anticipation of shooting up. Later—on the other side of her high, when she was coming down and the drug had begun to lose its effect—the very same thoughts would depress her. I'd be there for the letdown, too. If I didn't listen when she needed to confide in someone, then who would?

Related Characters: Elizabeth “Liz” Murray (speaker), Ma / Jean Murray
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

I told Ma all but one detail—the fact that I knew it was wrong. I knew that all I had to do to end it was to call out for her. But I didn't, because Ron made things better for Ma, for Lisa and me. I didn't want to ruin that, so I failed to call out.

Related Characters: Elizabeth “Liz” Murray (speaker), Ma / Jean Murray, Lisa Murray, Ron
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

I don't recall Daddy ever talking about Meredith at home or in front of Ma. She never came to visit. Sometimes it felt as though I made up the memory of her, but I knew I hadn't. And every now and then Lisa and I would talk about how we wanted to meet Meredith again, and get to know our big sister. But no one talked about Daddy's other life before us, or our other sister.

Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

When Ma was plastered to the couch, flies buzzing over her head, cigarette butts floating in her nearby bottle of beer, it just didn't seem right to tell her that I’d spent my day at a picnic or at the pool, playing in the sun, eating home-cooked meals with Rick and Danny's family. The same went for Daddy and Lisa. Any joy I managed outside of our home felt, to me, like a form of betrayal.

Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

There were countless times I still gave Ma my tips from packing bags or the dollars taped inside my birthday cards sent from Long Island. It hit me then, like a hammer to my chest, that maybe I'd driven her crazy and paid for the needle that infected her with AIDS, too.
"Idiot," I said out loud. "Moron."
I hurled a pillow across the room, smashing the pieces of my diorama. The Popsicle stick fence, still glued together, clacked onto the floor, snapping in half.

Related Characters: Elizabeth “Liz” Murray (speaker), Ma / Jean Murray
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

"Okay, just one more thing," I told her. "Hold on." I slid a chair over to reach the top shelf of my closet, where I'd hidden Ma's NA coin and that one photo of her, the black-and-white one from when she was a teenager, living on the streets. Opening my journal, I slipped the picture carefully inside and snapped the book shut.
"Now I can go," I said. "Let's just go."

Related Symbols: The Photograph of Ma
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Breaking Night LitChart as a printable PDF.
Breaking Night PDF

Ma / Jean Murray Character Timeline in Breaking Night

The timeline below shows where the character Ma / Jean Murray appears in Breaking Night. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: University Avenue
Willpower and Independence Theme Icon
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Drugs and Addiction Theme Icon
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Liz’s mother, or Ma, tells Liz’s father (named Peter Finnerty, but referred to throughout as Daddy) that she is... (full context)
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Ma meets Daddy in the mid-1970s. At the time, Daddy is witty and charming. His parents... (full context)
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...a graduate degree in social work and begins dealing full-time. Around this time, he meets Ma. (full context)
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Daddy and Ma love each other, but they express their love by doing drugs together, including cocaine, amphetamines,... (full context)
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The scheme ends when Ma—by this time addicted to painkillers—shows up at a pharmacist’s office and gets arrested. First, the... (full context)
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With Daddy in prison, Ma rents an apartment in the Bronx, at the time one of the most dangerous neighborhoods... (full context)
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Daddy returns from jail when Liz is three years old. In the following months, Ma becomes more neglectful and she and Daddy begin going into the kitchen to use mysterious... (full context)
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...family is almost entirely dependent on welfare. Every month, government checks arrive in the mail. Ma qualifies for relief because she’s legally blind, due to a degenerative eye disease. She and... (full context)
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There are many times during Liz’s childhood when Ma disappears suddenly. One day, for instance, the family goes to see the film Alice in... (full context)
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...family have a great day. She and Lisa feast on Happy Meals from McDonald’s, and Ma and Daddy inject drugs into their veins using their “spoons.” (full context)
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While pregnant with Liz, Ma had a nervous breakdown, and during this period, Lisa went to live with a wealthy... (full context)
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Ma’s mother lives in Riverdale, and Liz sometimes visits her. Otherwise, Grandma would visit Liz and... (full context)
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Ma often tells Liz about how, when Ma was a child, Grandma would beat her for... (full context)
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Ma often takes Lisa and Liz to get free lunch at the local school. Sometimes, Lisa... (full context)
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Ma disappears at unusual times. She often claims she is going to a local bar, but... (full context)
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The night before Liz starts school, Ma takes drugs and becomes manic. She insists that she has to give Liz a haircut,... (full context)
Chapter 2: Middle of Everything
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Lisa bullies Liz when Ma and Daddy aren’t around. She pulls pranks on Liz, and tells elaborate lies about what... (full context)
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...she firs started school, she felt like an outcast, partly because of the bizarre haircut Ma gave her. Then, just after the beginning of the first grade, is when she gets... (full context)
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...doesn’t get much sleep, and in part it’s because she barely gets any food. Once, Ma steals five dollars from Liz to buy drugs. The five dollars were a gift from... (full context)
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Ma is attacked in her neighborhood several times, and once a man with a knife robs... (full context)
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Sometimes, Ma talks to Liz while she, Ma, uses drugs. She tells Liz stories about life in... (full context)
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By December of first grade, Ma has begun allowing Liz to stay home from school most days. They watch TV together... (full context)
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Ma begins spending time with a woman named Tara. They get high together, and Ma often... (full context)
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Eventually, Ron starts picking up Lisa, Liz, and Ma at Tara’s apartment every Sunday. Instinctively, Liz knows not to talk about Ron while Daddy... (full context)
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One day, Ron drives Liz, Lisa, and Ma out to his house in Queens. For the rest of the day, Lisa and Liz... (full context)
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Five weeks later, Ma has a mental breakdown, the first in more than six years. Liz has never told... (full context)
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Following Ma’s breakdown—caused, the doctors claim, from Ma’s failure to take her “schizophrenia medicine”—Liz and Lisa are... (full context)
Chapter 3: Tsunami
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After her mental breakdown in 1986, Ma experiences six schizophrenic bouts in four years. She is hospitalized each time, sometimes for several... (full context)
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In Ma’s absence, Daddy does a good job of taking care of his children. He learns how... (full context)
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In 1990, Ma and Daddy are at a low point in their relationship—not coincidentally, a time when they’re... (full context)
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In 1990, Ma begins sleeping on the couch instead of with Daddy. Sometimes, when Ma and Daddy fight,... (full context)
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...she’s always lonely when she returns to her own home. One night when Liz returns, Ma tells her that Daddy is “not a caring man.” Liz tries to convince Ma that... (full context)
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One day, Liz hears a knock on the door. Ma opens it and finds a young man standing outside. To Liz’s surprise, Lisa greets the... (full context)
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Shortly afterwards, Ma is committed to the hospital yet again. Bored and desperate for food, Liz meets up... (full context)
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Liz gets a call from Ma, who’s currently in the hospital. Ma complains that the hospital is harsh—she hates not being... (full context)
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One night shortly after Ma returns from the hospital, she comes back to the apartment late at night, waking up... (full context)
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...for school. In the middle of the night, she wakes up to the sound of Ma crying. Liz begins to hug Ma and comfort her, which she’s used to doing. Suddenly,... (full context)
Chapter 4: Unraveling
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Ma begins spending more time with a man named Leonard Mohn. He and Ma pop pills,... (full context)
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...Cole doesn’t ask Liz parents some other questions—why there’s no food in the house, why Ma is on drugs, etc. The officer tells Liz that if she doesn’t start attending school,... (full context)
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That night, Leonard Mohn comes by and he and Ma stay up late, getting high and talking. Liz overhears Ma talking about a man named... (full context)
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A month later, Ma takes Liz to meet Brick. Brick is a former officer in the Navy, Ma claims,... (full context)
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Ma and Liz spend the day with Brick. From time to time, Brick goes into an... (full context)
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After saying goodbye to Brick, Liz tells Ma that she doesn’t want to see Brick anymore. Ma hesitates and then tells Liz that... (full context)
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...high, much to her surprise. Liz’s family doesn’t attend her graduation. A few weeks later, Ma calls to tell Liz that she’s moving in with Brick, and that she wants Liz... (full context)
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Soon after starting junior high, Liz gets a call from Ma, explaining that she hasn’t been using cocaine and that she loves Brick’s apartment. Meanwhile, Liz’s... (full context)
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...is scrawled on the back. Liz begins to cry. She wonders if Daddy ever loved Ma, and if he gave Ma AIDS. In the following days, Liz begins avoiding Daddy whenever... (full context)
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...they wish each other good luck. Liz is about to be taken to live with Ma, Lisa, and Brick, but she’s worried that this home will turn out to be “another... (full context)
Chapter 5: Stuck
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Liz arrives at Brick’s apartment, where Ma embraces her. The truancy officers tell Liz that she’s been sent to live with Ma... (full context)
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Liz’s new school is divided into different “segments,” based on academic ability. Ma has instructed the counselors to place Liz in the most advanced classes, but the counselors... (full context)
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Back at home, Brick goes to work every day while Ma spends much of her time drinking at a local bar. Lisa becomes increasingly irritable around... (full context)
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One day, Brick and Ma get in a fight because all the forks are dirty. Brick becomes so furious that... (full context)
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Ma gets sicker every day, and grows weak and quiet. Sometimes, she bursts into tears for... (full context)
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...if he’s even alive—she’s visited only once since being moved to live with Brick and Ma. Later on, Liz learns that Daddy had fallen behind on rent and gone to live... (full context)
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...Liz graduates from junior high, having gone to school just enough to pass her classes. Ma attends Liz’s graduation, and—much to Liz’s surprise—she seems genuinely happy and proud of her daughter. (full context)
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Liz starts high school and Ma’s health deteriorates ever further, to the point where she vomits many times a day. One... (full context)
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...her days exploring New York and having fun with her friends. But sooner or later, Ma’s illness pulls her back to earth. (full context)
Chapter 6: Boys
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Sam and Liz make a new friend: a boy named Carlos Marcano. Carlos is handsome and confident, and the first time he ever meets Liz, he tells... (full context)
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One night, Carlos visits Liz at her apartment, and sees Ma suffering from the symptoms of AIDS. Instead of being repulsed by Ma’s condition, or going... (full context)
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...decide to leave their homes for good. Liz packs some clothes and the photograph of Ma as a teenager. She’s ready to leave Brick forever. (full context)
Chapter 7: Breaking Night
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...Liz calls Brick’s home. Lisa answers the phone and explains that Liz should come home: Ma “doesn’t have that long.” (full context)
Chapter 8: The Motels
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Once, Liz calls Brick’s home, and Ma picks up the phone. Her voice is faint and confused, suggesting that she has dementia... (full context)
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Liz calls Lisa, who informs her that Ma is in the hospital. Liz decides to go to the hospital. There, the nurses force... (full context)
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After Ma falls back asleep, Liz leaves the hospital. Lisa can’t believe that Liz would leave so... (full context)
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For the next three weeks, Liz puts off visiting Ma again. She, Carlos, and Sam stay in a hotel while they look for an apartment.... (full context)
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Then, one morning, Liz gets a call from Lisa: Ma has died. Liz rushes to the hospital, where she finds Daddy. The two of them... (full context)
Chapter 9: Pearls
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The chapter begins with a letter Liz writes to Ma after her death. Liz explains that Ma’s death prevented Liz from telling her all the... (full context)
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Liz compares her relationship with Ma to “how pearls are made.” A pearl begins with a small, painful grain of sand... (full context)
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Liz feels guilty for being absent when Ma died. She wonders if Ma was afraid as she approached the end of her life:... (full context)
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Liz tells Ma that Daddy kissed her on the mouth just before Ma’s death—then, the nurses scolded him... (full context)
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The family buries Ma the day after Christmas. At the funeral, Liz sees Lisa and realizes that her sister... (full context)
Chapter 10: The Wall
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The week after Liz and her family bury Ma, Liz stops sleeping. She has horrible nightmares. Furthermore, Carlos has begun calling other women on... (full context)
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...brings Daddy to register her for classes at HPA. She hasn’t seen her father since Ma’s funeral. To hide the fact that she’s homeless, Liz decides to concoct a story about... (full context)
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...chance to start over again. She remembers waiting in line outside the welfare office with Ma and Lisa. Ma had to prepare the perfect set of documents in order to qualify... (full context)
Chapter 12: Possibility
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...genuinely enjoys learning about the disease. As she presents, however, she begins to think about Ma. Strangely, she pictures Ma as a beautiful young woman, not an exhausted, emaciated victim. (full context)