The Mothers

by

Brit Bennett

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Mothers can help.
Nadia’s mother, and Robert Turner’s wife. By the beginning of The Mothers, Elise has already committed suicide. Nadia often thinks about her mother’s choice to take her own life, wondering what, exactly, led her to shoot herself in the head. This question is unanswerable, but that doesn’t stop Nadia from wondering if perhaps she was a burden to her mother. After all, Elise got pregnant when she was quite young, but she was too religious to seek out an abortion. As such, Nadia considers whether or not her mother would have ultimately been happier if she had gotten an abortion, thinking that maybe Elise would still be alive if she hadn’t followed through with her pregnancy. In addition to these uncomfortable thoughts, Nadia has to face the congregation’s quiet anger over Elise’s suicide. While sitting at her mother’s funeral, Nadia feels “pity” and “anger” radiating toward her, ultimately sensing Upper Room’s harsh judgment of Elise’s actions.

Elise Turner Quotes in The Mothers

The The Mothers quotes below are all either spoken by Elise Turner or refer to Elise Turner. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Riverhead edition of The Mothers published in 2016.
Chapter One  Quotes

She was startled by how rarely she had been alone back then. Her days felt like being handed from person to person like a baton, her calculus teacher passing her to her Spanish teacher to her chemistry teacher to her friends and back home to her parents. Then one day, her mother’s hand was gone and she’d fallen, clattering to the floor.

Related Characters: Nadia Turner, Elise Turner
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Two Quotes

Her mother had been able to tell when she’d had a bad day at school moments after she climbed into the car. What happened? Her mother used to ask, even before Nadia had said hello. Her father had never been that perceptive, but a pregnancy wasn’t a bad day at school—he would notice that she was panicking, he would have to. She was grateful so far that he hadn’t, but it scared her, how you could return home in a different body, how something big could be happening inside you and no one even knew it.

Related Characters: Nadia Turner, Robert Turner, Elise Turner
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Three Quotes

At her mother’s funeral, in the front pew, she’d felt pity radiating toward her, along with a quiet anger that everyone was too polite to express, though she’d felt its heat tickling the back of her neck. “Who is in a position to condemn? Only God,” the pastor had said, opening his eulogy. But the fact that he’d led with that scripture only meant that the congregation had already condemned her mother, or worse, that he felt her mother had done something deserving of condemnation. […]

How dare anyone at the church judge her mother? No one knew why she’d wanted to die. The worst part was that Upper Room’s judgment had made Nadia start to judge her mother too.

Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Four Quotes

How could a woman like that kill herself? Aubrey knew it was a stupid question—anyone could kill herself, if she wanted to badly enough. Mo said that it was physiological. Misfired synapses, unbalanced chemicals in the brain, the whole body a machine with a few tripped wires that had caused it to self-destruct. But people weren’t just their bodies, right? The decision to kill yourself had to be more complicated than that.

Related Characters: Aubrey Evans, Elise Turner, Monique (Mo)
Page Number: 83
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Mothers LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Mothers PDF

Elise Turner Character Timeline in The Mothers

The timeline below shows where the character Elise Turner appears in The Mothers. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter One 
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...when this happens, and that she’s living with her father, Robert, but not with her mother, Elise, because Elise committed suicide six months ago. Since this tragedy, Nadia has “earned a... (full context)
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Shortly after Elise Turner killed herself, Nadia started skipping school and riding busses through San Diego, getting off... (full context)
Identity Theme Icon
...with textbooks spread over the table, he teases her for being a “nerd”—something even her mother used to make fun of her for, since she has always been disarmingly smart. “See... (full context)
Identity Theme Icon
...other young women. Looking at a vase made of seashells, she thinks about how her mother loved to collect shells, saying that doing so calmed her. Nadia’s memory is interrupted when... (full context)
Chapter Two
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
...dwell on this, thinking instead that the truck has “turned things around for him” after Elise’s suicide. (full context)
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Caretaking and Responsibility 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”... (full context)
Chapter Three
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
...also feel sorry for Robert, who they say has been through too much already, since Elise shot her own head “clean off her body” last year, leaving behind her distraught family.... (full context)
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
...wasn’t like this before. Or maybe she was. Maybe I just didn’t know her before. Elise was always there to…they were so close, I couldn’t get between them and didn’t hardly... (full context)
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
...downstairs with a pair of clippers and offers to give her father a haircut—something her mother used to do. As she runs the clippers along his head, he says that the... (full context)
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
...that he and Mrs. Sheppard must “pity” her, but everybody pities her. Indeed, at her mother’s funeral, she could feel “pity radiating toward her, along with a quiet anger that everyone... (full context)
Chapter Four
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
The Mothers recount the last time they saw Elise Turner (they were apparently the last ones to see her alive). Entering the church one... (full context)
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Nadia spends the summer thinking about her mother’s final days—wondering what she must have been experiencing—and feeling lonely herself.  One day, though, Aubrey... (full context)
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
...saved. Aubrey has moved many times throughout her life, due to the fact that her mother leads an unstable love life and follows men all over the country. One of these... (full context)
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
When Nadia asks if Aubrey’s mother is dead, Aubrey says, “No, no, nothing like that. I just—we don’t get along, that’s... (full context)
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
...other in several years because Monique never visited home because she didn’t like Paul, her mother’s abusive boyfriend. In this moment, Aubrey reveals to Nadia that Paul used to hit both... (full context)
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
...[is] written on her skin.” Over tea one afternoon, Aubrey asks her what happened to Elise Turner. She asks this because the pastor never mentioned a cause of death, a fact... (full context)
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
...she still doesn’t know that Paul used to get drunk and hit Aubrey and her mother. “He’d moved in a year before [Aubrey had] left,” Bennett explains, “and for a year,... (full context)
Chapter Six
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
...office to have her picture taken in preparation for the trip, she realizes that her mother never left the country. “This would be her life,” Bennett notes, “accomplishing the things her... (full context)
Identity Theme Icon
...apartment. “Get a job, Luke,” Mr. Sheppard says upon hearing about the Cobras. “Listen,” his mother adds, shaking her head, “I know you love football but you got to be realistic... (full context)
Chapter Eight
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...party perfect. Aubrey, however, is preoccupied with something else: whether or not to invite her mother. When Aubrey tells Monique that she’s considering this, her sister says, “Are you fucking kidding... (full context)
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
...comes home to discover that her father has taken down all the pictures of her mother. That night, she calls Shadi, who’s planning to fly to California just before the wedding... (full context)
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
...stole from inside Mother Betty’s piano bench when he was in sixth grade. “That’s my mother’s,” Nadia says, dumbstruck. “She thought she lost it.” Luke says he knows and apologizes for... (full context)
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Aubrey’s mother responds to her invitation the weekend before the wedding. We can’t make it, she writes.... (full context)
Chapter Nine
Internalization vs. Externalization Theme Icon
...at a fancy restaurant. During the meal, Nadia—who has spent the day thumbing through her mother’s prayer book and looking at the words Elise underlined—suddenly says, “You had no right to... (full context)
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
...falls asleep, she wiggles out of his grasp and sits by the window with her mother’s prayer book in her lap. (full context)
Chapter Twelve
Secrecy, Gossip, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
...own. As his caretaker, Nadia tries to hide how worried she is about him. “She mothered as a penance,” Bennett writes. Still, she also talks to her father as a daughter,... (full context)
Chapter Fourteen
Caretaking and Responsibility Theme Icon
Religion and Judgment Theme Icon
...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... (full context)