The Mothers

by

Brit Bennett

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The Mothers: Chapter Two Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ten years ago, the Mothers write, Upper Room protested the very same abortion clinic that Nadia has now visited as a patient. Although the church isn’t the kind of religious organization that constantly makes public statements, the congregants simply couldn’t accept “an abortion clinic going up downtown just as easy as a donut shop.” However, the protest only lasted three days, because the group was soon joined by “the type of crazed white people who would end up on the news someday for bombing clinics or stabbing doctors.” Still, while the protest lasted, Robert Turner drove to the clinic every morning in his beloved pickup truck to deliver the picket signs. “He and his wife were not the protesting type,” the Mothers note, though the couple was happy to help in this small way, since they, too, were vehemently opposed to abortion.
Bennett takes this opportunity to solidify Upper Room’s disapproval of abortion. Not only is the congregation against such procedures, but it has also blatantly protested the very same clinic that Nadia visits. In this way, Bennett emphasizes to readers the extent to which Nadia goes against her community by getting an abortion. Since Nadia knows that the religion in which she was raised condemns abortion, she is forced  to keep the procedure a secret even from her father. Bennett illustrates that Upper Room’s strict morals have essentially pushed Nadia further into secrecy, requiring her to turn her back on the church.
Themes
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
These days, Robert is known as “the man with the truck” because of how much he uses it to run errands for the church. He constantly makes himself available to any request from the congregation, eagerly hauling materials to various church functions and driving all over town as a way of contributing to Upper Room. Sometimes he wonders if his community values his truck more than him, though he doesn’t dwell on this, thinking instead that the truck has “turned things around for him” after Elise’s suicide.
Robert’s truck is a distraction from Elise’s death, as well as an outlet for his grief. Thus, the truck represents both an externalization and an internalization of his pain. On the one hand, Robert’s truck provides him with something physical and tangible to obsess over instead of Elise’s suicide. On the other hand, the truck gives him an excuse to avoid talking about his emotions, since he’s always hopping into the truck to run errands for Upper Room. In doing so, he not only avoids his true feelings but also fails to support his daughter, shirking his responsibilities as her caretaker, though nobody—except Nadia—seems to notice this shortcoming.
Themes
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
After Nadia’s abortion (and finally getting a ride home from a volunteer at the clinic), Robert comes home to find her in bed. Explaining her stomach cramps, she tells her father that she’s just uncomfortable because she’s on her period. “Her mother had been able to tell when she’d had a bad day at school moments after she climbed into the car,” but her father is completely unable to read her, quickly and uncomfortably accepting her excuse. As he awkwardly leaves her room, she asks if she can borrow his truck. He’s hesitant, but Nadia convinces him by saying, “Where do you think I’m taking it? The border?” Relenting, he leaves her with the keys.
Robert’s inability to sense what’s really going on with Nadia emphasizes how out of touch he is as a caretaker. In addition, the fact that Nadia can undergo something as significant as an abortion and still easily deflect Robert’s concern aligns with her tendency to internalize hardship and emotion. After all, the procedure only affected her internally, giving her the freedom to present herself externally however she wants. She chooses to block her father—a logical choice, considering that he has recently devoted himself so intensely to Upper Room, a church that harshly judges people who support abortion.
Themes
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
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Nadia drives Robert’s truck to Fat Charlie’s in search of Luke, who’s nowhere to be seen. Acting on a hunch, she goes to a beach house owned by Cody Richardson, a man in his thirties who still parties with high school students. Nadia herself has spent many memorable nights at Cody’s house, hooking up with boys, smoking weed, and “drunk-crying the weekend after burying her mother.” When she finds Luke here, he instantly asks what she’s doing at the party—a question she turns on him, asking why he didn’t pick her up at the clinic. “Some shit came up, okay?” he says. “I knew you were gonna find a way home.” He stares at the ground while saying this, and when he finally looks at her, she’s surprised that he looks like he always does; “Shouldn’t someone look different once you’ve caught them in a lie?” she wonders.
When Nadia wonders if a person should “look different once you’ve caught [him] in a lie,” she once again reveals the ways in which she approaches internalization and externalization. Since Nadia usually admires Luke for the way he externally exhibits his pain, she’s unnerved by the fact that his face looks the same after he has lied to her. In this moment, she learns that Luke doesn’t actually display everything he’s feeling and is capable of deception.
Themes
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
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“Look,” Luke says, “this shit was supposed to be fun, not all this fucking drama. I got you the money. What else do you want from me?” As Luke walks away, Nadia feels stupid for not realizing that Luke saw her as “a problem” to “deal with” when he gave her an envelope filled with $600 several days before. Wanting to drown this feeling, she grabs a bottle of tequila from a countertop and pours herself a stiff drink despite the dreadlocked nurse’s instructions to avoid alcohol for 48 hours. She finds a boy she used to hook up with as a freshman and grinds against him until he presses her hand against his erect penis, at which point she pushes away from him and goes outside.
Once again, Bennett calls into question the duties and responsibilities people have to one another in their romantic relationships. Having already established the various ways in which Nadia’s mother and father have failed to take care of her, Bennett shows that Luke is yet another person who ultimately fails to support her. “What else do you want from me?” he asks, revealing that he thinks he has already satisfied what should be expected of him in this situation. In this way, readers see that Nadia doesn’t have anyone to rely on in a substantial or meaningful way.
Themes
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
On the balcony, Cody Richardson points out a nuclear power plant on the horizon, saying to Nadia, “Any minute—boom. Just like that. I mean, all it takes is a storm and we all blow up.” Looking at the glowing white domes at the power plant on the horizon, Nadia says, “That’s how I wanna go someday.” “Really?” Cody asks, to which Nadia simply says, “Boom.”
The imagery of a nuclear power plant exploding is figuratively in line with the way that Nadia keeps her grief, anger, and general unhappiness bottled up inside. When she says that she’d like to die by suddenly exploding, it’s not hard for readers to see the connection between the instability of contained nuclear energy and Nadia’s internalization of hardship; in both cases, something volatile fights its way out of an enclosed environment to disastrous effects.
Themes
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
Nadia imagines the moments leading up to her mother’s suicide, watching in her mind’s eye as Elise drives through town with Robert’s “service pistol” in her lap. Although Elise wanted to die on the beach, it’s dawn and surfers have already started entering the water, so she drives half a mile from Upper Room and parks so that her car is “shielded by branches.” Turning off her engine, she picks up the gun.
Bennett relates the story of Elise’s suicide through the lens of Nadia’s memory, providing readers with Nadia’s mother’s backstory and giving insight into just how much this event has influenced Nadia. Bennett suggests that when a significant caretaker commits suicide, the people left behind must piece together why he or she has done so—a painful and seemingly never-ending experience.
Themes
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Coming into the driveway with her father’s truck after Cody Richardson’s party, Nadia turns too sharply and hits a tree. Now, as she and Robert stand together in the driveway, her father asks why she didn’t have the headlights on. “They were!” she insists, but he finds her story unlikely. “Are you drunk?” he asks. Stepping closer, he smells the liquor curling off her body. As he advances, she suddenly extends her arms and keeps him from getting any closer. “He stopped,” Bennett writes, “[…] and she couldn’t tell whether he wanted to slap her or hug her. Both hurt, his anger and his love, as they stood together in the dark driveway, his heart beating against her hands.”
This image of Nadia holding Robert at arm’s length is visual representation of their strained relationship, especially considering that she can’t tell whether or not he wants to “slap her or hug her,” and that she feels a mixture of “anger” and “love” emanating from him. It’s worth noting that, as she presses her hands against his “beating” heart, this is perhaps the closest she has gotten to her father in quite some time, since they both lead such separate lives. Robert, for his part, has withdrawn from his caretaking responsibilities by distracting himself with the religion and Upper Room. Nadia, on the other hand, has been quietly rebelling against this by partying, going to strip clubs, and generally misbehaving. This moment, then, marks the first time that Robert has actually noticed what’s wrong with his daughter. Unfortunately, Nadia has to smash Robert’s truck in order to get his fatherly attention—attention he should be giving her regardless of her behavior.
Themes
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
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