Machinal

by

Sophie Treadwell

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Helen’s Mother Character Analysis

An old woman primarily concerned with her daughter’s (Helen’s) wellbeing and financial stability. Because of this preoccupation, she encourages Helen to marry George, who she argues must be a good man because he’s the vice-president of a company. When Helen asks her mother if she ever loved her own husband, she responds by saying, “I suppose I did—I don’t know—I’ve forgotten—what difference does it make—now?” In this response, she reveals herself to be a woman driven not by emotion but by a sense of pragmatism, a fact made all the more clear when she says, “Love! What does that amount to! Will it clothe you? Will it feed you? Will it pay the bills?” Of course, this mentality contrasts with Helen’s more sensitive disposition, and her mother comes to exemplify what it looks like to live according to the orderly, non-emotional manner dictated by 20th-century American society.

Helen’s Mother Quotes in Machinal

The Machinal quotes below are all either spoken by Helen’s Mother or refer to Helen’s Mother. 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:
Marriage and Gender Inequality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Nick Hern Books edition of Machinal published in 2014.
Episode 1: To Business Quotes

Marry me—wants to marry me—George H. Jones—George H. Jones and Company—Mrs. George H. Jones—Mrs. George H. Jones. Dear Madame—marry—do you take this man to be your wedded husband—I do—to love honor and to love—kisses—no—I can’t—George H. Jones—How would you like to marry me—What do you say—Why Mr. Jones I—let me look at your little hands—you have such pretty little hands—let me hold your pretty little hands—George H. Jones—Fat hands—flabby hands—don’t touch me—please—fat hands are never weary—[…]—don’t touch me—please—no—can’t—must—somebody—something—no rest—must rest—no rest—must rest—no rest—late today—yesterday—before—late—subway—air—pressing—bodies pressing—bodies—trembling—air—stop—air—late—job—no job—fired—late—alarm clock—alarm clock—alarm clock—hurry—job—ma—nag—nag—nag—ma—hurry—job—no job—no money—installments due—no money—[…]—money—no work—no worry—free!—rest—sleep till nine—sleep till ten—sleep till noon—now you take a good rest this morning—don’t get up till you want to—thank you—oh thank you—oh don’t!—please don’t touch me—I want to rest—no rest—earn—got to earn—married—earn—no—yes—earn—all girls—most girls—ma—pa—ma—all women—most women—I can’t—must—maybe—must—somebody—something—ma—pa—ma—can I, ma? Tell me, ma—something—somebody.

Related Characters: Helen Jones (speaker), George H. Jones, Helen’s Mother
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:
Episode 2: At Home Quotes

YOUNG WOMAN. Tell me—(Words suddenly pouring out.) Your skin oughtn’t to curl—ought it—when he just comes near you—ought it? That’s wrong, ain’t it? You don’t get over that, do you—ever, do you or do you? How is it, Ma—do you?

MOTHER. Do you what?

YOUNG WOMAN. Do you get used to, it—so after a while it doesn’t matter? Or don’t you? Does it always matter? You ought to be in love, oughtn’t you, Ma? You must be in love, mustn’t you, Ma? That changes everything, doesn’t it—or does it? Maybe if you just like a person it’s all right—is it? When he puts a hand on me, my blood turns cold. But your blood oughtn’t to run cold, ought it? His hands are—his hands are fat, Ma—don’t you see—his hands are fat—and they sort of press—and they’re fat—don’t you see?—Don’t you see?

MOTHER (stares at her bewildered). See what?

YOUNG WOMAN (rushing on). I’ve always thought I’d find somebody—somebody young—and—and attractive—with wavy hair—wavy hair—I always think of children with curls—little curls all over their head—somebody young—and attractive—that I’d like—that I’d love—But I haven’t found anybody like that yet—I haven’t found anybody—I’ve hardly known anybody—you’d never let me go with anybody and—

MOTHER. Are you throwing it up to me that—

YOUNG WOMAN. No—let me finish, Ma! No—let me finish! I just mean I’ve never found anybody—anybody—nobody’s ever asked me—till now—he’s the only man that’s ever asked me—And I suppose I got to marry somebody—all girls do—

MOTHER. Nonsense.

YOUNG WOMAN. But, I can’t go on like this, Ma—I don’t know why—but I can’t—it’s like I’m all tight inside—sometimes I feel like I’m stifling!—You don’t know—stifling. (Walks up and down.) I can’t go on like this much longer—going to work—coming home—going to work—coming home—I can’t—Sometimes in the subway I think I’m going to die—sometimes even in the office if something don’t happen—I got to do something—I don’t know—it’s like I’m all tight inside.

Related Characters: Helen Jones (speaker), Helen’s Mother (speaker), George H. Jones
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Machinal LitChart as a printable PDF.
Machinal PDF

Helen’s Mother Character Timeline in Machinal

The timeline below shows where the character Helen’s Mother appears in Machinal. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Episode 2: At Home
Marriage and Gender Inequality Theme Icon
...lights shine once more on the stage, Helen sits at a kitchen table with her mother while the sounds of apartment buzzers, radios, and the voices of people outside the window... (full context)
Marriage and Gender Inequality Theme Icon
Communication Theme Icon
Fragmentation and Expressionism Theme Icon
“How soon you going to marry him?” Helen’s mother asks, but Helen declares that she has no plans to accept George’s proposal. To the... (full context)
Marriage and Gender Inequality Theme Icon
Communication Theme Icon
The Mechanical World Theme Icon
Fragmentation and Expressionism Theme Icon
Returning to their conversation, Helen’s mother says that George must be a “decent man” because he’s a vice-president. Helen argues that,... (full context)
Marriage and Gender Inequality Theme Icon
Relentless, Helen’s mother says, “You’re crazy!” again, and Helen admits this is perhaps true. She then verbally attacks... (full context)
Episode 3: Honeymoon
Marriage and Gender Inequality Theme Icon
Communication Theme Icon
The Mechanical World Theme Icon
...the bathroom to change—much to George’s disappointment—and when she re-emerges, she’s crying. “I want my mother!” she says. “I thought you were glad to get away from her,” George points out,... (full context)
Episode 9: A Machine
Marriage and Gender Inequality Theme Icon
Communication Theme Icon
The Mechanical World Theme Icon
Fragmentation and Expressionism Theme Icon
The priest launches into a long prayer. Helen’s mother appears, but Helen calls her a stranger who has “never known” her. Just as her... (full context)