The Mothers

by

Brit Bennett

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The Mothers: Chapter Eleven Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Nadia and Luke start spending almost everyday together in her father’s house. They usually have sex, but sometimes they just talk, enjoying each other’s company. In their minds, they aren’t having an affair, since affairs are “shadow and secretive, not lunches shared in a sunbathed kitchen while [Nadia’s] father nap[s] in the living room.” At the same time, though, the days they don’t have sex feel even more “treacherous” and “intimate.” One day, Luke traces his finger along Nadia’s stomach and says, “I love you,” and she wonders if he’s talking to her or to their unborn baby.
Bennet suggests that the most powerful secret of all is hidden emotional intimacy, illustrated by the way that Nadia and Luke feel most guilty about spending time together when they don’t have sex and instead simply pass the afternoon talking. This notion may also apply to Aubrey’s online back-and-forth with Russell, since this relationship is comprised solely of emotional intimacy. On another note, when Luke says “I love you” to Nadia’s stomach, he acknowledges the connection he has not only to Nadia, but to their unborn baby—a connection he’s forced to hide in his everyday life but can finally express in the privacy of Nadia’s bed.
Themes
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
As Nadia and Luke’s secret romance unfolds, Aubrey goes to the appointment she made with her doctor to talk about her inability to get pregnant. As she lies on her back while the doctor examines her, she thinks about her strained sex life with Luke, realizing that she can’t relax when they make love. Indeed, she “tense[s] up when anything [is] inside her, even Luke’s finger.” When they had sex for the first time—on their wedding night—she experienced nothing but pain and wondered how Luke was able to ignore the fact that “he was hurting her.” Now, as her appointment comes to an end, the doctor says there’s nothing wrong with her, assuring her that she’s young and healthy. “Just relax,” he says. “Have some wine.”
Aubrey is uncomfortable with physical expressions of love, likely because sex has never emotional intimate for her—when Paul used to rape her, love and intimacy were certainly not what she experienced. For Aubrey, love is an internalized emotion that doesn’t translate into physical embodiment. Since Aubrey has still concealed her secret about being raped in her childhood, Luke is seemingly unaware of Aubrey’s struggles and fails to show her the kind of attentive intimacy that would make her more comfortable. Given these factors, it’s unlikely Aubrey will be able to abide her doctor’s casual advice to “relax” while having sex.
Themes
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
Nadia and Luke continue having sex behind Aubrey’s back. They both pretend to not feel guilty, but it’s obvious that each of them harbors deep misgivings about what they’re doing, though their attraction to one another and their history keep them from stopping. Luke keeps thinking about the baby they would have had together, but when he tries to talk to Nadia about it, she tells him she doesn’t want to talk, distracting him by kissing his neck.
The way Nadia and Luke have sex stands in stark contrast to the way Aubrey approaches physical intimacy. Nadia and Luke’s relationship blossoms physically, and the internalized elements of their relationship (attraction, guilt, and sorrow) manifest themselves in the act of lovemaking. However, some things, like the memory of Nadia’s abortion, can hardly find expression through physical acts.
Themes
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
Shortly after visiting her regular doctor, Aubrey makes an appointment with a fertility specialist named Dr. Yavari, who is hailed in online pregnancy forums as the “baby-maker.” When Aubrey asks Nadia to come to this appointment with her, Nadia immediately says, “I can’t.” However, she can’t think of a good way of back up this statement, so she eventually relents and accompanies Aubrey. Sitting in the waiting room, Aubrey tells Nadia that she’s nervous because she knows something is “wrong with her.” After saying this, she tenses up, waiting for Nadia to ask how she knows such a thing, but Nadia simply says, “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
Nadia’s hesitancy to go with Aubrey to the fertility specialist make sense, since doing so may exacerbate her guilt regarding her abortion and furtive relationship with Luke. Nonetheless, she’s forced to accept Aubrey’s invitation because failing to do so would look suspicious. In turn, Bennett shows readers that keeping secrets often means having to put oneself in uncomfortable situations. In addition, by asserting that she knows something must be “wrong with her,” Aubrey indirectly discloses that she knows Luke is fertile and that he has gotten someone pregnant before (not yet knowing this person was Nadia). Bennett suggests that even the deepest secrets are difficult to keep, implying that humans are naturally inclined to share their hidden stories.
Themes
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
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During the appointment, Dr. Yavari asks Aubrey a set of questions. “Have you ever had an abortion?” she asks at one point, catching Aubrey off-guard but quickly explaining that she has to ask this. Later, when they’re alone in the office and Aubrey is getting dressed again, Nadia says, “I can’t believe she asked you that.” “Asked me what?” Aubrey says. “You know,” replies Nadia. “The abortion thing. Why does it even matter?” Aubrey says she doesn’t know, speculating that it must matter in some capacity, otherwise Dr. Yavari wouldn’t have brought it up. “Still,” Nadia says. “I can’t believe it follows you around like that.” 
When Nadia says she can’t “believe” abortion “follows” people around, she frames it as a stigma that is impossible to escape. She herself has been carrying around the emotional impact of her abortion since she was a teenager, but now she sees that this secret has the potential to affect her in more tangible ways. If she wanted to get pregnant again, for instance, she might also find herself sitting in Dr. Yavari’s office and answering this question, thus having to outwardly acknowledge a secret she otherwise protects at all costs. The idea of an abortion “follow[ing]” somebody throughout her entire life suggests that the procedure can come to define a woman’s identity.
Themes
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
After Nadia says she can’t believe abortion “follows” a person around, Aubrey is certain that her friend is the woman Luke told her about, the one he got pregnant and who got an abortion. “Later,” Bennett writes, “Aubrey would wonder what had exactly tipped her off. The statement itself, or the unusual softness in Nadia’s voice, or even the way her face had looked under the fluorescent light, slightly stricken with grief.” Regardless, Aubrey is positive now that her friend is “The Girl.” After dropping Nadia off, Aubrey goes to the liquor store and buys a bottle of wine. At home, she changes into sexy lingerie (which she otherwise never wears) and gets drunk. When Luke comes home, she pulls him to the couch, and when he enters her, she “clench[es] her eyes and [finds] sweetness in the pain.”
In this scene, Bennett showcases the ways in which even Nadia—a person who always internalizes her emotions—can’t help but externalize her feelings in some situations. Talking about the stigma surrounding abortion, Nadia’s face looks different, “slightly stricken with grief.” It is perhaps because Nadia is ordinarily so capable of hiding these feelings that Aubrey suddenly realizes that Nadia is the woman Luke impregnated. Paralleling Nadia’s uncharacteristic externalization, Aubrey suddenly embraces sexuality in a way she never has before, pulling Luke to her and finding “sweetness in the pain” of sexual contact.
Themes
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
Luke asks Nadia if he can take her on a date. “You can’t,” she says, annoyed by how easily he thinks he can transition away from being a husband. She reminds him that he’s married, and he says, “What if I wasn’t?” This gives Nadia pause, but then she points out that Aubrey loves Luke and that they can’t do that to her. “We’re just fucking around,” she says, “but she loves you.” This offends Luke, who insists that they’re clearly not “just fucking,” but Nadia interrupts him to say that to her, they really are “just fucking.” Luke starts dressing and looks like he’s going to cry, but Nadia refuses “to let him bury his guilt in her.” 
Luke’s casual implication that he could divorce Aubrey for Nadia symbolizes how nonchalant he is when it comes to commitment and responsibility, as he’d rather follow his impulses than uphold his devotion to Aubrey. This doesn’t sit well with Nadia because she has witnessed how society shames women (like her mother) who walk out on their commitments, while men have the latitude to casually follow their impulses and ignore the consequences. On another note, when Bennett writes that Nadia refuses to let Luke keep “bury[ing] his guilt in her,” readers might recall her previous assertion that Luke has “burrowed” deep inside of her. This wording implies that Nadia will no longer internalize her love for Luke or let him influence her internal world. After all, he was always supposed to be her “outside hurt,” but now he seems to have turned into the exact opposite.
Themes
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Luke leaves Nadia’s house, accidentally forgetting his watch on her nightstand. The next morning, she brings it to Upper Room. While doing so, she sees Mother Betty getting off the bus. Betty tells her that the DMV took her license away, so Nadia offers her a ride, providing the old woman with her phone number so she can call whenever she needs to get somewhere. Betty is grateful for this, and Nadia leaves Luke’s watch on Betty’s desk in the church. 
Having ended things with Luke, Nadia’s life is on hold as she lives in his father’s house in California while he recuperates. This stagnancy is most likely why she offers to become Betty’s chauffeur. In doing so, though, she involves herself with the community, ultimately taking care of the church’s elderly population—a group of people who have done little for her other than gossip about her mother’s death.
Themes
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon