The Mothers

The Mothers Chapter Fourteen Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The morning after Robert finds the golden baby feet, he bursts into Upper Room with Nadia and goes straight for the pastor’s office. The night before, Nadia found him sitting on her bed with the medallion in his hands, and he said, “You did this thing? You did this thing behind my back?” At a loss, Nadia told him everything, which is why he wants to confront the pastor, who he now knows paid for the abortion. When they enter Mr. Sheppard’s office, the pastor asks them to sit down, but Robert says, “No. You don’t give me orders. She was just a girl, you son of a bitch, and you knew what your boy had done to her.” In turn, the pastor says, “It was handled, Robert,” but Nadia’s father presses on, accusing the pastor of forcing his daughter to have an abortion.
Robert’s reaction to finding out about Nadia’s abortion fails to take into account how withdrawn he was as a caretaker in the year after Elise’s death. “You did this thing behind my back?” he asks—an unfair question, since everything could be considered “behind [his] back,” given how significantly he retreated from his responsibilities as a father. Of course, it’s easier for him to put the blame on Mr. Sheppard, making the pastor out to be a bad person whose son corrupted Nadia. Blaming the pastor helps Robert avoid admitting to himself that he’s the one who failed as a caretaker.
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Summoning her courage, Nadia speaks up, saying that nobody made her do anything and that she had the abortion because she simply didn’t want a baby. “So you kill it?” her father says, looking at her with disgust in his eyes. “No one made me do anything,” she repeats, knowing that if her mother was still alive, she could be proud of her daughter for not blaming anybody else for her choices. “She was that strong, at least,” Bennett writes.
In this moment, Nadia decides to tell the complete truth about her abortion, declaring that nobody forced her to “do anything.” In doing so, she bravely invites her father’s scorn and his judgment that she “kill[ed]” her baby. This viewpoint is in line with Upper Room’s religious values, so it’s unsurprising to hear Robert express such disapproval of Nadia’s abortion. Nonetheless, there’s no doubt that it must deeply hurt Nadia to see her father’s contempt, though this doesn’t stop her from being “strong” and accepting responsibility for her decision to move forward with her own life rather than living an unhappy existence with an unwanted child.
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Nadia finally decides to leave California again. As she packs, her father tries halfheartedly to stop her, as if he’s expected to tell her to stay. Nadia even wonders if he’s eager to live a “simple” life again without her, though he’ll have to find a new church after the situation with Mr. Sheppard, and “what other church would have a need for a lonely man and his truck?”
It’s clear that Nadia empathizes with her father and his loneliness, even feeling guilty that he now will have to find a new community. At the same time, she also can’t bear to stay with him any longer, perhaps because he has harshly judged her for getting an abortion, further straining their relationship.
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On her way to the airport, Nadia stops at Monique and Kasey’s house and talks to Aubrey, who is now far along in her pregnancy. Upon seeing her, Nadia remembers how she felt when she was pregnant, and how she feared others would be able to notice her body changing. Aubrey, though, doesn’t look scared. “She wanted this baby,” Bennett notes, “and that was the difference.” Inside the house, the girls talk about Aubrey’s pregnancy. “What happens if I don’t love this baby?” she asks, but Nadia assures her that she will. In response, Aubrey points out that both she and Nadia were born to mothers who didn’t love them enough, and Nadia finds herself wishing that this were true. Hugging her friend goodbye, she goes out the door, gets back into the cab, and leaves California.
When Aubrey suggests that she and Nadia were both born to mothers who didn’t love them, Nadia wishes this were true because it would ultimately be easier to understand this sentiment. It would be simpler to comprehend that her own mother never wanted her—after all, Nadia herself knows what it feels like to get pregnant with an unwanted child. What’s harder to understand, though, is why a loving mother would want to leave. This uncertainty will follow Nadia for the rest of her life, as she’ll never know why Elise committed suicide. In this way, Bennett preserves one last secret, hinting that some things in life are unknowable no matter how badly a person wants to discover the truth.
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The Mothers recount how the news of Nadia’s abortion spreads through the church. First, Mother Betty overhears Robert yelling at the pastor for financing the abortion. Betty then whispers to the other Mothers during bingo that Robert called the pastor an “S.O.B.” “Can you believe it?” she asks. “Of course we couldn’t,” the Mothers write, “which was why Betty looked so delighted to tell us.” From there, the Mothers spread the gossip throughout the church until, one day, one of them leaves in the middle of the pastor’s sermon. Slowly, the rumors twist until somebody claims the Sheppards gave Nadia $5,000, which is how she afforded to go to school in Michigan. A reporter even arrives from a local paper asking about the preacher’s nefarious dealings, and though the Mothers shoo him away, he gets the information from another source and puts it in the paper.
With this whirlwind of gossip, Bennett demonstrates how stories contort and intensify as they’re passed from one person to the next. This has disastrous effects for the Upper Room community, since the church will certainly earn a bad name in the broader religious community if news gets out that the pastor paid for a girl’s abortion because his son got her pregnant. As this salacious news works its way toward destroying the church, it’s worth noting that the community itself plays a huge part in spreading Nadia’s story. As the Mothers gossip and people whisper about the abortion, they put the reputation of Upper Room in jeopardy. Nonetheless, they keep talking. Through the church community’s behavior, Bennett illustrates that storytelling is a natural human impulse, and that it is irresistible even when it threatens to harm the very people who are telling the tale.
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Upper Room closes amidst the chaos of swirling rumors, since so many congregants find new churches to attend after hearing about the pastor’s financing of an abortion. Years later, long after Nadia has left California, the Mothers still talk about her, wondering what kind of life she leads. One of them insists that Nadia now lives in New York or Boston and works as a respected lawyer. Betty maintains that Nadia has never settled down, claiming she goes “flitting around the world, from Paris to Rome to Cape Town, never resting anywhere.” Another Mother says she heard on CNN about a woman who attempted suicide in a Chicago park; “she hadn’t caught the name,” Bennett writes, “but the photo looked just like the Turner girl.”
As she skips ahead in time, Bennett shows that stories often have long-lasting effects. Sometimes people can’t stop talking about certain tales, as is the case with the Mothers and their fascination with Nadia’s new life. In a way, the uncertainty surrounding her current whereabouts and existence becomes a secret itself—one the Mothers can continue to guess for the rest of their days, superimposing narratives onto Nadia’s life and continuing to pigeonhole her as a wild, sad, doomed girl. 
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Since Nadia’s last departure from California, the Mothers have seen her one final time. These days, the Mothers gather on a porch on Sundays and pray for people in their community, though nobody leaves prayer cards anymore. Still, they pray for people like Aubrey Evans and Luke Sheppard, whom they’ve seen together with their newborn child, “together, but not quite so, the way you can fix a hole in a worn pair of pants but they never look new.” One such day, they see Nadia driving by in Robert’s truck. She’s in her thirties now, though she looks the same. The Mothers wonder why she has come back to town, speculating that perhaps Robert is sick, though they notice the truck has boxes in the back, suggesting that perhaps Nadia’s helping her father move. Or maybe, they think, she’s bringing Robert to live with her.
The Mothers’ tendency to involve themselves in other people’s lives persists as they pray for the community, even focusing on Aubrey and Luke and speculating that, though the young parents have clearly made amends, their relationship still suffers from their past dishonesty. Bennett gives readers one last glimpse of Nadia, but Bennett doesn’t reveal anything about her life, allowing readers to feel the same kind of insatiable curiosity the Mothers feel toward Nadia.
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One of the Mothers claims she sees a pink Barbie bag sitting in the front seat of Robert’s truck as Nadia drives past, and the group speculates that she’s bringing a gift for Aubrey’s daughter. Just as quickly as they can formulate this hypothesis, though, Nadia drives around the corner and out of their lives again. “We will never know why she returned,” the Mothers say, “but we still think about her. We see the span of her life unspooling in colorful threads and we chase it, wrapping it around our hands as more tumbles out. She’s her mother’s age now. Double her age. Our age. You’re our mother. We’re climbing inside of you.”
In these concluding sentences, Bennett jumps forward in time, saying that Nadia is suddenly “her mother’s age,” then “double her [mother’s] age,” then the same age as the Mothers themselves. As such, readers feel Nadia’s life rapidly “unspooling” from their grasp, forcing them into further uncertainty regarding what has become of her. Amidst this uncertainty, the Mothers say, “You’re our mother,” implying that the readers have assumed the position of the storytellers. Readers have inherited the Mothers’ desire to know and tell Nadia’s life story, and as this impulse toward narration “climb[s]” through them, the novel itself ends. In turn, readers are left holding a mess of “colorful threads”—the strands of an unfinished story.
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