The Breadwinner

by

Deborah Ellis

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Parvana’s mother used to write for a local Kabul radio station, but since the Taliban took over, she hasn’t been able to work. Even though Father encourages her to work secretly and to get out and observe what’s going on in the city, Mother refuses on the grounds that she doesn’t want to have to go out with an escort. She also believes that the family should leave Afghanistan, though she never does. Despite these constant arguments, Mother and Father have a close, loving relationship, and Mother is distraught when the Taliban arrests her husband. She spends four days sleeping and only gets up when an old friend, Mrs. Weera, arrives to help share the work load around the house. A proud and righteous woman, Mother doesn’t want Parvana to dig up bones in the graveyard. It’s especially difficult for her when both Parvana and Nooria refuse to listen to her or take her advice when it comes to making more much-needed money, but the novel implies that Mother is being prideful to the point of possibly hurting her family. With Mrs. Weera around, however, Mother begrudgingly agrees to begin writing again, and the two women work together to produce a magazine telling Afghan women’s stories. This gives Mother a sense of purpose and gives her a means to resist the Taliban in her own way. Near the end of the novel, Mother leaves with Nooria and the little ones to attend Nooria’s wedding in Mazar, but the Taliban take the city while they’re traveling. It’s unknown where they are or whether they’re even alive, but Parvana and Father leave to search for them at the end of the novel.

Mother Quotes in The Breadwinner

The The Breadwinner quotes below are all either spoken by Mother or refer to 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:
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Oxford University Press edition of The Breadwinner published in 2014.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Parvana knew she had to fetch the water because there was nobody else in the family who could do it. Sometimes this made her resentful. Sometimes it made her proud. One thing she knew—it didn’t matter how she felt. Good mood or bad, the water had to be fetched, and she had to fetch it.

Related Characters: Parvana, Mother, Nooria, Maryam
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Other people lived in the part of the building that was still standing. Parvana saw them as she went to fetch water or went out with her father to the marketplace. “We must keep our distance,” Father told her. “The Taliban encourage neighbor to spy on neighbor. It is safer to keep to ourselves.”

Related Characters: Father (speaker), Parvana, Mother, Nooria, Maryam
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

“You are a writer. You must do your work.”

“If we had left Afghanistan when we had the chance, I could be doing my work!”

“We are Afghans. This is our home. If all the educated people leave, who will rebuild the country?”

Related Characters: Father (speaker), Mother (speaker), Parvana
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

Nooria looked terrified. If Parvana didn’t obey her, she would have to go for food herself.

Now I’ve got her, Parvana thought. I can make her as miserable as she makes me. But she was surprised to find that this thought gave her no pleasure. Maybe she was too tired and too hungry. Instead of turning her back, she took the money from her sister’s hand.

Related Characters: Parvana, Nooria, Mother
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

“Mrs. Weera!” Nooria exclaimed. Relief washed over her face. Here was someone who could take charge, who could take some of the responsibility off of her shoulders.

Related Characters: Nooria (speaker), Mrs. Weera, Parvana, Mother
Page Number: 56-57
Explanation and Analysis:

She kept hauling water. Her arms were sore, and the blisters on her feet started to bleed again, but she didn’t think about that. She fetched water because her family needed it, because her father would have expected her to. Now that Mrs. Weera was there and her mother was up, things were going to get easier, and she would do her part.

Related Characters: Parvana, Mrs. Weera, Mother, Father
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

“You’re not cutting my hair!” Parvana’s hands flew up to her head.

“How else will you look like a boy?” Mother asked.

“Cut Nooria’s hair! She’s the oldest! It’s her responsibility to look after me, not my responsibility to look after her!”

“No one would believe me to be a boy,” Nooria said calmly, looking down at her body.

Related Characters: Parvana (speaker), Mother (speaker), Nooria (speaker), Mrs. Weera
Related Symbols: Hair
Page Number: 62
Explanation and Analysis:

“It has to be your decision,” Mrs. Weera said. “We can force you to cut off your hair, but you’re still the one who has to go outside and act the part. We know this is a big thing we’re asking, but I think you can do it. How about it?”

Parvana realized Mrs. Weera was right. They could hold her down and cut off her hair, but for anything more, they needed her cooperation. In the end, it really was her decision.

Somehow, knowing that made it easier to agree.

Related Characters: Mrs. Weera (speaker), Parvana, Mother, Nooria
Related Symbols: Hair
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

“No,” Parvana told her mother.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I don’t want to quit yet. Shauzia and I want to buy trays, and things to sell from the trays. I can follow the crowd that way, instead of waiting for the crowd to come to me. I can make more money.”

“We are managing fine on what you earn reading letters.”

“No, Mother, we’re not,” Nooria said.

Mother spun around to scold Nooria for talking back, but Nooria kept talking.

Related Characters: Parvana (speaker), Mother (speaker), Nooria (speaker), Shauzia
Page Number: 103-104
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

“I need a break,” she told her mother. “I don’t want to see anything ugly for a little while.”

Mother and Mrs. Weera had heard about the events at the stadium from other women’s group mothers. Some had husbands or brothers who had been there. “This goes on every Friday,” Mother said. “What century are we living in?”

Related Characters: Parvana (speaker), Mother (speaker), Mrs. Weera, Shauzia
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Parvana remembered arguments between her father and mother—her mother insisting they leave Afghanistan, her father insisting they stay. For the first time, Parvana wondered why her mother didn’t just leave. In an instant, she answered her own question. She couldn’t sneak away with four children to take care of.

Related Characters: Parvana, Shauzia, Mother, Father
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

“I don’t like working alone. The marketplace isn’t the same when you’re not there. Won’t you come back?”

Put to her like that, Parvana knew she could not refuse. [...] Part of her wanted to slip away from everything, but another part wanted to get up and stay alive and continue to be Shauzia’s friend. With a little prodding from Shauzia, that was the part that won.

Related Characters: Shauzia (speaker), Parvana, Mother, Nooria, Homa / The Woman
Page Number: 135
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Breadwinner PDF

Mother Character Timeline in The Breadwinner

The timeline below shows where the character Mother appears in The Breadwinner. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...all girls and women to stay in their homes, and girls can’t even attend school. Mother was fired from her job as a writer for a radio station. The family has... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...their day, Parvana gathers up the small household items and ornaments they’re trying to sell. Mother and Nooria regularly go through the family’s belongings to come up with more things to... (full context)
Chapter 2
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mother and Nooria are immersed in cleaning projects. Parvana begins to take off her chador, but... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
When Parvana is done, she joins Maryam on the floor and compliments Maryam’s drawing. Mother and Nooria call Parvana to help them clean out the cupboard. They just did it... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mother and Nooria begin to put things back in the cupboard, and Mother hands Parvana new... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Parvana’s anger disappears when Mother puts the parcel of Hossain’s clothes away in the cupboard. Hossain used to be the... (full context)
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...and lead men into war. Father says there are many different kinds of battles as Mother insists it’s time to clean up. (full context)
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...chador—the Taliban sometimes steal young women. Frozen from fear, Parvana watches the soldiers grab Father. Mother screams at them as they tell Father that Afghanistan “doesn’t need [his] foreign ideas.” Mother... (full context)
Chapter 3
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Once Ali and Maryam fall asleep, Mother settles them on the floor. Quietly, Mother, Nooria, and Parvana clean up and lie down... (full context)
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...Taliban ordered everyone paint their windows to obscure the women inside. Finally, at dawn, she, Mother, and Nooria get up quietly. Nooria begins to heat water for tea, but Mother stops... (full context)
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Parvana wraps her chador around her head and follows Mother outside. She helps Mother down the stairs and Mother takes off into the streets. Parvana... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Finally, after a long walk, Mother and Parvana reach Pul-i-Charkhi Prison. It’s a scary place. Parvana reminds herself that Malali wouldn’t... (full context)
Chapter 4
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Parvana and Mother get home late. Parvana is exhausted and in excruciating pain. When she takes off her... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mother refuses Nooria’s help as she tears off her burqa and collapses onto a toshak. She... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...normal Nooria behavior, which makes Parvana feel better. As Parvana washes and eats, Nooria offers Mother food. Mother refuses and spends the next two days lying down, only sitting up to... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
On the third day, Parvana considers doing housework, but she doesn’t want to disturb Mother. She and Nooria discuss that Mother has to get up soon, but nothing changes. Parvana... (full context)
Chapter 5
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...chasing her. Mrs. Weera praises Parvana for running and says she’d like to come visit Mother—she’s starting a magazine and she needs Mother’s help. She ignores Parvana’s insistence that Mother doesn’t... (full context)
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...physical education teacher she was before the Taliban made her quit. Parvana motions to where Mother is and Nooria explains that she’s been there for four days, since Father was arrested. (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mrs. Weera takes the first two buckets and washes Mother. Parvana ignores her bleeding, blistered feet, thinking that she has to help her family. She... (full context)
Chapter 6
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
The next day, Mrs. Weera, Mother, and Nooria tell Parvana their plan: they’ll turn Parvana into a boy. Posing as their... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Parvana snaps that she’ll be curvy soon, but Mother heads off the fight by saying they’ll deal with that later. For now, the fact... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mother continues to cut. Parvana starts to feel like a different person as her forehead gets... (full context)
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mother hands Parvana a white cap with beautiful embroidery, gives Parvana money and a scarf, and... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...excitedly announces that she was successful, but Maryam is the only one who seems excited. Mother is back on the toshak and Ali sits next to her, trying to get her... (full context)
Chapter 7
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
After breakfast the next morning, Mother sends Parvana back to the market with Father’s writing things. Parvana is excited; if she... (full context)
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Just before lunch, a man stops and asks the price for the red shalwar kameez. Mother didn’t tell Parvana what to ask, but Parvana remembers how Mother used to argue with... (full context)
Chapter 8
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...Parvana wants to return to the market, but she’s happy to help Mrs. Weera move. Mother announces that she and Mrs. Weera are going to start a magazine and praises Parvana... (full context)
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mrs. Weera warns Parvana to be careful, since Maryam’s feet will be tender. Before Mother can object, Maryam and Parvana hurry outside. Fetching water takes a long time. Maryam wants... (full context)
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
A week after she begins working, Parvana suggests that she could escort Mother and Nooria so they can get fresh air, too. Mrs. Weera insists this is a... (full context)
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...they’ve experienced the outdoors. Parvana hands over her earnings every day after work, and sometimes Mother accompanies Parvana to the market to shop. Parvana loves the time with Mother and she... (full context)
Chapter 9
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...evenings in the dark. When they get to Parvana’s apartment, Shauzia accompanies Parvana inside and Mother greets her warmly, though they’ve never met before. Mother assures Shauzia that she can visit... (full context)
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Gender Relations Theme Icon
After Shauzia leaves, Mother says she’d like to visit Shauzia’s mother to get her story for her magazine. When... (full context)
Chapter 10
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Parvana doesn’t tell Mother that Shauzia wants to go dig up bones. The next day at the market, Parvana... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...and they agree to keep digging. Parvana tries to come up with an excuse for Mother as to why she didn’t come home in the afternoon. (full context)
Chapter 11
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mother rushes to Parvana as soon as Parvana gets home. She’s very concerned. Suddenly, Parvana feels... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...nan, rice, and tea, but they can’t pay rent or buy fuel for the lamps. Mother snaps that she’s glad Father isn’t here to witness this disrespect, but Mrs. Weera points... (full context)
Chapter 12
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...home from the market. She takes Nooria and the little ones outside, but she tells Mother that she doesn’t want to see anything ugly for a while. Mother and Mrs. Weera... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...person, but she’ll die if she stays. Parvana remembers how her parents used to fight. Mother wanted to leave Afghanistan. Parvana wonders why Mother didn’t just go, but then answers the... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Mother and Mrs. Weera start their school and are very careful to avoid the Taliban. Nooria... (full context)
Chapter 13
Gender Relations Theme Icon
...to university. The letter detailing all of this was passed from woman to woman through Mother and Mrs. Weera’s women’s group, but Parvana is still skeptical. Nooria notes that she hates... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...next few days while Parvana is out, the adults make plans. Parvana is indignant when Mother announces that they’ll all go to Mazar for the wedding and then will return to... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
A woman and her husband from Mother’s women’s group will escort Mother, Nooria, and the younger children to Mazar. Nooria is nervous,... (full context)
Chapter 14
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
...curfew for several decades and bombings destroyed most streetlights, so it’s very dark at night. Mother used to lament that Kabul was once “the hot spot of central Asia” and reminisce... (full context)
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
Mrs. Weera assures Parvana that Mother and Nooria are safe, but Parvana feels hopeless. She crawls onto the toshak and stays... (full context)
Chapter 15
Afghanistan, History, and Pride Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
...says he’ll never be truly well enough to go, but they should go look for Mother and the others anyway. They’ll go as soon as he comes up with a way... (full context)
Gender Relations Theme Icon
Family and Friendship Theme Icon
Agency, Maturity, and Childhood Theme Icon
...as a boy or a girl, she’s still his “little Malali.” Mrs. Weera shows Parvana Mother’s magazine and asks Parvana to tell Mother that copies are headed all over the world.... (full context)