The Mothers


Brit Bennett

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The Mothers Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Brit Bennett's The Mothers. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Brit Bennett

Brit Bennett was born in Oceanside, California, where she spent the next seventeen years of her life. Upon graduating from high school, she majored in English at Stanford before pursuing her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at University of Michigan. She also briefly studied at Oxford, making her the first person in her family to leave the country. In 2014, Bennett wrote an article for Jezebel entitled “I Don’t Know What To Do With Good White People.” The piece was published in response to the fact that police officer Darren Wilson—who shot and killed eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri—was not indicted for his crime. “I Don’t Know What To Do With Good White People” attracted millions of readers in only several days, spreading Bennett’s name throughout the literary community and beyond. Two years later, when she was just twenty-six, Bennett published her debut novel, The Mothers, earning her a place on the National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” list of breakout writers.
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Historical Context of The Mothers

In The Mothers, Nadia’s character development and emotional life are both intimately tied to her abortion, echoing the United States’ tumultuous past and present. In 1900, abortion was considered a felony throughout the United States, though some states made exceptions in certain cases. Despite the illegality of the procedure, many women still found ways to abort their pregnancies, and several states even made the operation legal again. In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion be legalized across the nation, upholding that women have the right to control their pregnancies. However, many religious groups remained vehemently against the procedure. Even today, particularly conservative, religious states still don’t offer wide access to abortion. Although the abortion debate rages on throughout America and remains a polarizing, highly politicized topic, organizations like Planned Parenthood advocate to make reproductive healthcare available to everybody. In turn, the primary complications surrounding Nadia’s abortion in The Mothers have to do with her own emotional misgivings and the judgment she fears from her community, not with her access to medical professionals willing and able to perform the procedure.

Other Books Related to The Mothers

With its examination of what it means to be a caretaker, The Mothers is similar to works like Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. Ng’s 2017 novel tells the tale of a single mother and her daughter as they navigate life in a nosey, judgmental community—a story that engages ideas regarding motherhood and gossip that Bennett also mines in The Mothers. In addition, The Mothers recalls Jeffrey Eugenides’ 1993 novel, The Virgin Suicides, which also employs a collective narrative voice (the first-person plural point of view). In The Virgin Suicides, a group of boys tells the story of their neighbors, five sisters who enter into a suicide pact. The boys hypothesize about the girls, speculating about the details of their lives in the same way that the church community whispers about Nadia Turner in The Mothers. What’s more, it’s also worth noting that suicide factors significantly into the plots of both The Mothers and The Virgin Suicides  
Key Facts about The Mothers
  • Full Title: The Mothers
  • When Published: October 11, 2016
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Realism
  • Setting: Oceanside, California
  • Climax: Robert Turner discovers that Nadia got an abortion when she was seventeen. Learning that Mr. Sheppard financed the procedure, he storms into church the next morning and yells at the pastor, calling him a “son of a bitch” for encouraging his daughter to “kill” her unborn baby. As he shouts, the pastor’s secretary overhears the conversation and subsequently spreads the secret throughout the congregation.
  • Antagonist: The narrow-minded, sexist, and judgmental attitudes that society projects onto women.
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient with periodic sections of first-person plural narration.

Extra Credit for The Mothers

The Big Screen. The Mothers will soon be made into a feature-length film. Bennett herself will write the script, and Kerry Washington (of Scandal fame) will co-produce with Natalie Krinsky (a Gossip Girl writer).