When Breath Becomes Air

by

Paul Kalanithi

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Paul’s Mother Character Analysis

Paul’s mother grew up in India before marrying Paul’s father. She values education highly and works to make sure that when the family moves from Westchester County in New York to Kingman, Arizona, that her sons will have as good an education as before. She finds a college prep reading list for Paul that gives him his love of literature, drives her sons to college prep courses over a hundred miles away, and works to get the school to offer AP classes. When Paul is diagnosed with cancer, she and the rest of the family also work to support Paul during his various treatments, remaining unwavering sources of comfort and security.

Paul’s Mother Quotes in When Breath Becomes Air

The When Breath Becomes Air quotes below are all either spoken by Paul’s Mother or refer to Paul’s Mother. 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:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of When Breath Becomes Air published in 2017.
Part 1 Quotes

My mother, afraid the impoverished school system would hobble her children, acquired, from somewhere, a “college prep reading list.” […] She made me read 1984 when I was ten years old; I was scandalized by the sex, but it also instilled in me a deep love of, and care for, language.

Related Characters: Paul Kalanithi (speaker), Paul’s Mother
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
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Paul’s Mother Character Timeline in When Breath Becomes Air

The timeline below shows where the character Paul’s Mother appears in When Breath Becomes Air. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: In Perfect Health I Begin
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Paul gives a little more background on his family: his mother and father had eloped and moved from southern India to New York City. He was... (full context)
Science and Literature Theme Icon
Knowledge, Experience, and Judgment Theme Icon
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Paul’s mother’s greatest fear is the lack of good education in Kingman, which had been identified as... (full context)
Knowledge, Experience, and Judgment Theme Icon
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Paul’s mother also drives Paul and his brothers, Suman and Jeevan, to Las Vegas to be able... (full context)
Part 2: Cease Not till Death
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A few weeks later, during Lent, Paul, Lucy, and his mother and father attend church together. Paul interprets the reading that day as a mocking of... (full context)
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
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Paul, Lucy, and Paul’s mother go to the infusion center together for Paul’s chemotherapy, to which he would return every... (full context)
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Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
Legacy Theme Icon
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...hospital, and two days later, Lucy has her first contractions. She stays home while Paul’s mother drives him to a follow-up appointment with Emma. Emma comments that his disease looks stable,... (full context)
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...hospital, Lucy’s mom calls to say that Lucy has gone into labor. Paul and his mother turn back. Paul lies down on a cot in the delivery room as their daughter,... (full context)
Epilogue
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...final Saturday. The family sits in their living room, holding Cady on his lap, Paul’s mother and father sitting nearby. Paul asks not to see nonfamily visitors, and isn’t able to... (full context)
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Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
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...“comfort care,” even though death would be more certain and would come more quickly. His mother asks him not to make any decisions until everyone has had a night to sleep... (full context)
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Knowledge, Experience, and Judgment Theme Icon
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
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...The family gathers to express their love and respect. Paul conveys his gratitude to his mother and father. He asks that his manuscript be published in some form. He tells Lucy... (full context)
Human Mortality, Strength, and Support Theme Icon
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...IV. His breath is shallow, and he slips into unconsciousness. For nine hours, Paul’s family—his mother, father, Suman, Jeevan, Cady, and Lucy—sit vigil as Paul’s breathing becomes increasingly effortful. More family... (full context)