Tito Matias-Ferreira, Jr.
Doutorando e Mestre em Literatura Comparada (UFRN) /
Professor Efetivo do Ensino Básico, Técnico e Tecnológico (IFRN).

ABSTRACT: This article is based on two plays written by women: The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman and ’Night, Mother by Marsha Norman in order to try to show the way the dialogue between mothers and daughters is constructed and how female identity is developed through such relationships. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to analyze the way both Hellman and Norman build up their female characters’ relationship, specially the mother to daughter’s one, and the way such a bond is influenced by the male characters as well as the society they live in. In order to do so, we describe Regina and Alexandra Giddens’ mother and daughter’s relationship in Hellman’s The Little Foxes and analyze the way such a bond is developed as well as portray Thelma and Jessie Cates’ mother and daughter’s relationship in Norman’s ’Night, Mother. Finally, there will be a comparative study between Hellman and Norman’s plays with the comparison of Regina/Alexandra and Thelma/Jessie’s relationship in an attempt to picture how both plays approach the mother to daughter relationship and the way such relations are either similar or different.
KEYWORDS: Lillian Hellman. The Little Foxes. Marsha Norman. ’Night, Mother. Mothering.

RESUMO: Este artigo é baseado em duas peças escritas por mulheres: The Little Foxes, de Lillian Hellman, e ’Night, Mother, de Marsha Norman, a fim de tentar mostrar a maneira em que o diálogo entre mães e filhas é construído em ambas as peças, assim como a identidade feminina é construída por meio de tais relações. Portanto, o objetivo deste trabalho é analisar a forma como Hellman e Norman retratam a construção do relacionamento de suas personagens femininas, especialmente entre mãe e filha, assim como a forma que esse vínculo entre mulheres é influenciado pelos personagens masculinos, bem como a sociedade em que elas vivem. Para tanto, descreveremos a relação de mãe e filha entre Regina e Alexandra Giddens na peça The Little Foxes, de Hellman, e analisaremos a maneira que o laço maternal é desenvolvido. Outrossim, descreveremos também a relação de mãe e filha entre Thelma e Jessie Cates da peça ’Night, Mother, de Norman. Para finalizar, haverá um estudo comparativo entre as peças de Hellman e Norman através da comparação entre o relacionamento de Regina/Alexandra e Thelma/Jessie, na tentativa de retratar como essas peças abordam o relacionamento entre mãe e filha, assim como a maneira que tais relações podem ser similares ou não.
PALAVRAS-CHAVE: Lillian Hellman. The Little Foxes. Marsha Norman. ’Night, Mother. Laços maternais.

Hellman’s The Little Foxes depicts the life of two families who have intermarried and shows these people’s attitudes towards wealth and power. From such an environment, relationships are developed differently from the ones in Southern USA. Regina Giddens, Oscar and Ben Hubbard’s only sister, happens to inherit nothing in her father’s death. Therefore, her struggle for wealth takes place within a metaphorical corporate boardroom, instead of within the confines of a society in which a father considers only sons as legal heirs. For that matter, Regina’s pragmatism in order to survive in such a world is dramatically evident in her willingness to sacrifice her relationship with her daughter, Alexandra.
As far as Norman’s ’Night, Mother goes, one finds the portrayal of a family’s crisis, specifically between a mother, Thelma Cates, and her daughter, Jessie Cates. Jessie has become totally isolated as a result of her epilepsy as well as her failed attempt at raising a family. Jessie’s mother, Thelma, hid her daughter’s disease in order to protect Jessie and also isolated her child from the world. The only way Thelma has to make her daughter find someone else is hiring a man to do some construction work in their house in order to introduce Jessie to a man and try to arrange her daughter’s marriage, in which she succeeds but Jessie ends up alone years later as they happen to get divorced.
One is able to notice that  Regina and Alexandra Giddens as well as Thelma and Jessie Cates have problematic relationship due to the environment they were brought up. In both Hellman and Norman’s plays, there is the lack of sentimentality between mothers and daughters. In the first one, Regina Giddens does not talk too much to her daughter and is only capable of assigning her only daughter, Alexandra, orders she must fulfill in order to get Regina’s objectives done: Alexandra was not allowed to travel on her own according to her mother’s opinion but when she needed her daughter to persuade her father to come back home, Regina agreed to let Alexandra travel in order to bring her father back home to deal with Regina’s brothers in an important business treaty. In the latter, the same seems to happen to Thelma and Jessie Cates: after her divorce, Jessie is brought back to her mother’s house and starts to take care of Thelma. Thelma treats her daughter like a maid; displaying her wishes and orders over Jessie and also controlling her daughter’s steps since Jessie is living with her again.
Due to their mothers’ over control, Alexandra Giddens and Jessie Cates are portrayed as passive characters in both Hellman and Norman’s play. Such characters take whatever their mothers want them to do without further questioning since their mothers’ figures are much stronger than theirs. Alexandra is a sweet and loving person who cares about her servants as well as her acquainted ones, specially her aunt Birdie. For that matter, Regina’s influence on her is easily done since Alexandra is convinced bringing her father back will help her family and the  others who they care about. On the other hand, Jessie Cates is a woman who has difficulty in relating to others and lives isolated in her mother’s house. She brings a feeling of awkwardness towards her mother’s friends as they never go to Thelma’s house because of Jessie’s presence; even her own brother Dawson does not often enter his mother’s place because of Jessie and clearly emphasizes that his coming over is for his mother and not for Jessie. Thus, even though  Alexandra and Jessie are very different characters, they cannot get away from their mothers’ persuasion because of their passive personality: Alexandra ends up traveling by herself and bringing her father back home and Jessie does not have many reasons to leave the house and for that matter lives over her mother’s excessive care.
Moreover, mother-daughter’s relationship is constructed with loneliness and emptiness on both Hellman’s The Little Foxes and Norman’s ’Night, Mother. Regina and Alexandra Giddens happen to live alone in their house since Horace Giddens, Regina’s husband and Alexandra’s father, is in the north of the U.S. treating his health from a bad disease. Likewise, Thelma and Jessie Cates live together in the same house as Jessie’s father has already passed away and Jessie no longer has a family of her own: Cecil, Jessie’s husband, has left her in order to live with another woman and Ricky, Jessie’s son, has also left home to a life of petty crimes.
As it has been said above, mothers and daughters live together and one would expect a very close relationship full of care and understanding. Nonetheless, such relationships are plenty of poor communication and limited comprehension. Thelma Cates seems not to be interested in her daughter’s concerns which make her relationship with Jessie fail. Jessie is not able to deal with her lot in life and falls into a deep unhappiness. Thelma believes that having Jessie by her side will do her some good, but Thelma’s inability to properly deal with her daughter’s issues make mother and daughter distance each other. Regarding Regina and Alexandra Giddens, Regina uses her daughter as a tool in order to get what she wants. Her manipulative manners towards Alexandra also make themselves separate one from the other. Regina’s  ambition for consumption as well as defiance latter and consequently generate a extreme dislike feeling towards mother and daughter at the end of the play.
In both plays, one can also find a change of roles among characters, specially between mother and daughters.  In Norman’s ’Night, Mother, even though Jessie is at her mother’s house under her mother’s control, she fills up her time mothering her own mother: she knows the time her mother needs to have her medicine; Jessie also makes Thelma’s diet; Thelma has her nails done every Saturday night by her daughter and as she prepares to kill herself she arranges a list and has everything ready for her mother to survive from the time she will no longer be present. On the other hand, Regina takes her husband’s place in order to go on with her life as well as her daughter’s raising during her Horace Gibbens’ absence. For that matter, Regina strengthens her character, which influences on her dealing with other people and mainly her daughter. Alexandra becomes a person like Regina’s servants who exist to merely comply with her mother’s desires as Regina uses her daughter to convince Oscar that he is also to have a better deal in their business transaction since she promises to think about having Alexandra married to her cousin Leo, Oscar’s son.
The play also brings the depiction of American families in crisis. The American dream of success and prosperity brings instability to the American families as their members try to attain the American dream of life, which is being monetarily as well as personally successful. The US is a country which praises itself for the flexibility of its social barriers and the way in which effort overtakes birth on the road to success. In Norman’s play, the Hubbards cover themselves with their Southern refinement in order to disguise their vicious greed for money and success. Likewise, Jessie’s attempt to raise a family and find herself on her own together with her husband and son falls short as she is neither capable of managing her seizures nor keeping her companion and kid at her side.  Thus, such a feeling of failure highly affects the family members described in both plays, specially the way mothers and daughters relate to each other.
Interestingly, since the relationship with their mothers happens to fail, both Alexandra and Jessie have strong feelings toward their fathers. In ’Night, mother, men are presented as secondary roles in women’s lives but Jessie’s father remains clear in her memory and always brings her good thoughts and comfort. Additionally, as a reflection of their problematic relationship, Thelma used to think that Jessie and her father would talk secretly behind her back. In their private conversation, Jessie’s mother used to think she was being criticized by her husband and daughter and also could not conceive the way conversation would flow between them since Thelma was not capable of keeping a long as well as substantial conversation with Jessie and Jessie’s father. Concerning The Little Foxes, Alexandra seems to complete the lack of affection towards her mother’s relationship with her father’s presence after he arrived. Horace would talk to his daughter and listen to his daughter’s apprehension. He would also partake her daughter’s piano classes together with her aunt Birdie. Both father figures seemed to oppose the role of the mothers depicted in both plays as they seem to fulfill the lack which is built between the mother and daughter’s relationships of Hellman and Norman’s plays.    
In the end of Norman’s ’Night, Mother and Hellman’s The Little Foxes there is a concrete break between mother and daughter’s relationship. In Hellman’s play, as Regina does not provide Horace his medicine in the time he strongly needed it, Alexandra’s father happens to die. Regina then gains everything she always wanted: her freedom to go to the northern part of the US in order to be part of the American high society. Nevertheless, Alexandra refuses to follow her mother and abandons Regina who ends up alone as Alexandra starts her new life on her own. In Norman’s play, Jessie kills herself in order to assert control of her life. After being lucid for nearly one year, she is sure she has to finish with her life to stop living in a world full of alienation and sadness. By separating themselves from their mothers, both Alexandra and Jessie are able to start building up their own identity as they begin to make their own decisions and detach from their mother figure to have their own existence.
In conclusion, mother and daughter’s relationship in the two plays culminate in a total disaster for the characters attempt to fulfill the dream of succeeding in life. Regina Giddens prefers to damage her relationship with her mother in order to change her life and become part of the high American society. Jessie Cates decides to kill herself after all her attempts to live as an ordinary person collide and her action of really taking her life away is enhanced by her poor communication with her mother due to their lack of sentimentality.


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