James Joyce

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained
5. They thought they had only a girl to deal with and that, therefore, they could ride roughshod over her. But she would show them their mistake. They wouldn’t have dared to have treated her like that if she had been a man. But she would see that her daughter got her rights: she wouldn’t be fooled.
    —“A Mother”

From “A Mother,” this quote reveals the thoughts of Mrs. Kearney toward the end of the final concert in which her daughter, Kathleen, is scheduled to perform. When she agreed to let her daughter participate, Mrs. Kearney arranged a contract in which the organizers agreed to pay Kathleen for three performances. With the second performance cancelled and the third nearly finished, Mrs. Kearney, in the passages before this one, has pursued the organizers of the concert, reminding them that Kathleen must be paid in full despite the changes. Here she expresses her determination in seeing the contract fulfilled—a determination that fixates on the gendered context of the situation. All of the organizers, who have been dodging Mrs. Kearney’s inquires, are men. As such, Mrs. Kearney sees her treatment as biased and manipulative. That Mrs. Kearney wants to “show” the men their erred judgment of her fits with Mrs. Kearney’s concerns with appearance and performance in the story. Following up with the agreement of the contract isn’t enough—she must publicly point out their mistake.

The parallel construction of this quote illustrates on a formal level a confrontational, competitive approach that both bolsters and weakens Mrs. Kearney’s quest. The first sentence begins with “they,” followed by a sentence that begins with “but she.” This move from the critiqued party of men to Mrs. Kearney, a move repeated in the third and fourth sentences, evokes Mrs. Kearney’s defensive mindset. “They” may do this, “but she” will counter. Such antagonism acts as a rallying cry for Mrs. Kearney, yet it also serves to undercut sympathy for her character. The repeated call for revenge highlights Mrs. Kearney’s self-concern that overrides concern for Kathleen. As the progression of the quote indicates, first Mrs. Kearney will valorize herself, and then she will be sure that Kathleen gets paid. Nowhere, however, does the reader hear Kathleen’s voice.