The Mothers

by

Brit Bennett

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The Mothers: Chapter Five Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Since Nadia’s abortion, Luke has been distracted at work, frequently breaking plates, bowls, and glasses. Though he used to be respected at Fat Charlie’s for always catching falling dishware with his fast football hands, now he’s sluggish and distracted. On break at work one night, he steps outside to smoke a joint with his friend and coworker, CJ, who used to play football with him in high school. Unable to keep his secret any longer, he tells CJ that he got Nadia pregnant, and CJ immediately advises him to demand that she furnish him with a DNA test to prove the baby belongs to him before he pays her any money. When Luke tells him that Nadia has already gotten an abortion, though, CJ pats him on the back and says, “Well, shit. That’s even easier. You got lucky, homie.”
Upon hearing about Nadia’s pregnancy, CJ immediately encourages Luke to go to great lengths to avoid having to assume the responsibility of a caretaker. He tells Luke to get a DNA test before he gives Nadia money for the child, ultimately demonstrating how men in this community are quick to refute the idea that they might have to take on the duties of providing for somebody else. This, it seems, is somewhat of a double standard, considering—for example—that the community so vehemently disapproved of Elise Turner’s suicide on the grounds that she abandoned her obligation to care for her daughter. In this way, Bennett illustrates that men often operate under different expectations regarding their roles as caretakers.
Themes
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
As CJ talks about how “lucky” Luke is because Nadia got an abortion, Luke can’t bring himself to feel glad about the situation. Since the incident, he’s been unable to take his mind off the fact that he “helped create a whole new person, a person who never existed before in the entire world.” Apparently, he never intended to leave Nadia at the clinic, but when the day came, he suddenly decided that “he had done his part” by paying her, determining that she shouldn’t expect anything else of him. Since then, though, he frequently thinks about a sign he saw as a child, when Upper Room picketed the abortion clinic: There’s no such thing as an unpregnant woman, just a mother of a dead baby, it said. Since then, the word unpregnant has haunted him.
Luke’s impulsive decision to leave Nadia at the abortion clinic yet again proves that men—at least in this community—seem to conduct themselves according to a different set of expectations, which doesn’t require them to care for their loved ones in any significant way. What’s more, the guilt Luke feels in retrospect has less to do with Nadia—whom he unfairly abandoned—and more to do with the general morality of abortion. Rather than feeling bad about the way he treated Nadia, he feels bad about having transgressed against Upper Room’s values. Despite this new moral stance, though, it’s worth noting that he never voiced such opinions to Nadia when she was making the decision to get an abortion. Assuming he didn’t have to share the burden of decision-making with her, Luke made Nadia bear the full brunt of the choice to not have their baby.
Themes
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
Nadia spends every night at Aubrey’s house that summer, leaving her Robert alone and causing him to wonder if Nadia is wearing out her welcome, though she assures him that Kasey and Monique don’t mind having her. Plus, she enjoys Aubrey’s strange little family. As they grill in Aubrey’s backyard, Monique tells stories about her nights working in the E.R. One night, she talks about a girl who took illegal abortion pills and wouldn’t admit to having done so until she was bleeding “out on the E.R. floor.” Later, Nadia asks what happened to this girl, though she can’t bring herself to say the word “abortion.” “Horrible infection,” Mo, says. “But she pulled through. These girls are so afraid to tell someone they’re pregnant. […] Don’t you girls ever do something like that. You call me, okay? Or Kasey. We’ll take you to a doctor.”
The story Monique tells about a girl almost dying after neglecting to tell the E.R. doctors that she took illegal abortion pills serves as a real-life example of the kind of negative consequences that can come from withholding important secrets. Unlike Nadia, this girl was forced to admit to getting an abortion, since she was literally bleeding out on the floor. Nadia, in contrast, was able to get an abortion before her body showed any signs of pregnancy, thereby successfully internalizing the entire matter. Because this other girl almost died, though, Nadia is forced to acknowledge that certain secrets can be toxic and dangerous to a person’s well-being. Of course, the secret of her own abortion manifests itself emotionally, not physically, but there’s no doubt that hearing this story serves as a disconcerting warning about harboring such secrets.
Themes
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
Nadia remembers that she considered illegal abortion pills herself. She would’ve used them, she thinks, if Luke hadn’t given her money for the actual procedure. Lying in the darkness later on, after Mo has told them about the girl in the E.R. who almost died from taking such pills, Nadia asks Aubrey, “Do you think it’s bad? What that girl did?” “Why?” Aubrey asks, to which Nadia says, “I don’t know. Just asking.” After a moment, Nadia says, “Sometimes I wonder—if my mom had gotten rid of me, would she still be alive? Maybe she would’ve been happier. She could’ve had a life.” Nadia knows that any of her other friends would “gasp” and look at her with “wide eyes” in response to this statement, but Aubrey simply squeezes her hand, “because she too under[stands] loss, how it [drives] you to imagine very possible scenario that might have prevented it.”
This is an interesting moment because Nadia considers both the negative and positive consequences that can come from having an abortion. On the one hand, she acknowledges to herself that the difference between her and the girl who almost died in the E.R. is slight (since she herself considered using illegal abortion pills), and she then wonders if this is “bad,” clearly feeling a certain amount of guilt for having gotten an abortion. On the other hand, when she wonders if her mother might still be alive if she’d gotten an abortion, Nadia recognizes that abortions can have positive outcomes. Indeed, by not having Luke’s child, Nadia has perhaps saved herself from leading the same life as her mother, which ultimately ended in sorrow. As such, Nadia questions the notion that abortion is an immoral and inherently evil thing, recognizing that—contrary to what the people of Upper Room might think—it can actually be life-giving. 
Themes
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
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As the summer draws to a close, Nadia decides she wants to take Aubrey to a party at Cody Richardson’s house—one last visit before Nadia leaves California. She helps Aubrey get dressed, encouraging her to wear a short dress and telling her that “every guy’s gonna want to hook up with” her, though Aubrey merely says, “So? That doesn’t mean I want to hook up with them.” When Nadia asks her friend how much physical intimacy she’s had in her life, Aubrey shyly says, “I don’t know. Kissing, I guess.” At this, Nadia starts talking about her own first time having sex but stops short, since she’s never told her friend about her relationship Luke.
When Aubrey says she’s only ever kissed a boy, she’s not being entirely truthful, considering what Paul has done to her. At the same time, though, she’s also not necessarily lying to Nadia about the amount of physical intimacy in which she has engaged, since rape doesn’t count as intimacy. Still, Aubrey once again finds herself in a position in which she has to keep her past hidden from Nadia. Interestingly enough, as their conversation progresses, Nadia also finds herself hiding the details of her own past. As such, Bennett illustrates that Aubrey and Nadia’s friendship is made up of an elaborate dance between truth-telling and secrecy; the girls want to be close to one another and share private details about their lives but can’t bring themselves to be fully honest, either.
Themes
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
At the party, Nadia gets Aubrey drunk. With alcohol working through her system, Aubrey starts dancing with a boy so sexually that Nadia pulls her away and forces her to drink water. As she does so, Aubrey tells Nadia that she loves her multiple times, which Nadia simply laughs off. “Jesus, Aubrey,” she says as she leads her into Monique and Kasey’s house later that night, putting her to bed, getting in next to her, and going to sleep next to her best friend.
As Nadia guides Aubrey home and gets her safely into bed, she assumes the role of a responsible caretaker. This is perhaps why Aubrey becomes so affectionate, since her own mother seemingly never cared enough about her to look out for her wellbeing. In this moment, then, Nadia does what Aubrey’s mother could never do, a fact that makes Aubrey abundantly grateful for her friend’s compassion.
Themes
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One morning, Mrs. Sheppard knocks on Luke’s bedroom door and tells him she knows he’s been spending his time thinking about Nadia, and that he needs to forget about her and move on with his life. She tells him he needs to come to church, and that it will do him good. As a result, Luke finds himself at Upper Room on the Sunday before Nadia leaves for college in Michigan and discovers that the congregation has taken up a donation to help her cover the extra expenses not included by her academic scholarship. After the service, he catches up with her and makes small talk until, annoyed by his “fake concern,” she says, “I don’t have the money. The offering. My dad has it. But I’ll pay you back.” Luke tries to protest the idea that he’s asking her to reimburse him, but she ignores him.
It’s clear that Nadia doesn’t want to pretend like everything between Luke and her is okay. Making small talk as if nothing has happened between them ultimately diminishes the difficult experience she has been through with the abortion. As such, she stands up for herself by forcing him to acknowledge their past, thereby involving him in the abortion. This ultimately corners Luke into accepting that he failed to take care of Nadia when she needed him most.
Themes
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“Six hundred, right?” Nadia says, pressing Luke. “I’d hate for you to feel like you ever did me any favors.” In response, Luke makes sure nobody is in earshot and says, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t go to that clinic. If someone had seen me—” Nadia quickly cuts him off, saying, “So you didn’t give a shit if someone saw me?” In response, Luke insists that it’s different because he’s the pastor’s son. “I needed you,” Nadia says. “And you left me.” At a loss, Luke replies, “I didn’t want to,” and when Nadia points out that this doesn’t matter, that he did leave her, he says, “No. I didn’t want to kill our baby.”
By saying that he “didn’t want to kill” his and Nadia’s baby, Luke backhandedly shames Nadia for getting an abortion, framing the matter as if she forced him into paying for a procedure to which he strongly objected. Of course, readers will remember that Luke didn’t object to the idea of an abortion when Nadia first told him her plans, but now he’s eager to make her feel guilty. He tries to disgrace her, implying that she has heartlessly “killed” their baby, a word that depicts abortion as a violent, immoral act.  
Themes
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Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
After her conversation with Luke, Nadia imagines what it would be like if she hadn’t gotten an abortion. She envisions their child—whom she calls Baby—as a boy taking his first steps, throwing his bottle, learning to jump. She wonders what Baby’s actual name would have been, but once she hears Luke say the words “our baby,” she can’t stop thinking of the child as just Baby. That night—after Luke tells her that he “didn’t want to kill [their] baby”—Nadia fantasizes about telling Aubrey everything about the abortion and her relationship with Luke, wanting badly for her friend to show her compassion and understanding. As they play pool together at a local bar, though, she can’t bring herself to reveal her secret, too worried it will ruin her friendship with Aubrey.
Nadia’s conversation with Luke causes her to question the choice she made to get an abortion. His use of the pronoun “our” recalls the bond they used to share with one another—a connection she clearly misses, though she’s also still angry at Luke for having abandoned her at the clinic. Still, hearing Luke talk about their baby causes her to wonder if she has perhaps made a mistake. She seems to think in this moment that she could have raised the child with Luke, thereby assuming the role of a caretaker—a role her own mother failed to successfully carry out. With these thoughts swirling through her head, she yearns for an outlet, wishing she could tell Aubrey about her abortion. Unfortunately, though, she knows that Aubrey is deeply religious, and this keeps her from divulging her secret. After all, the religious community of Upper Room disapproves of abortion, so Nadia fears Aubrey will judge her. In this way, Bennett shows that religion ultimately keeps Nadia from fully reaching out to her various support networks, instead causing her to keep her secrets to herself.
Themes
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon