The Mother’s Day
By J.B. Priestley
About the Author
Priestley was born on 13 September 1894 at 34 Mannheim Road, Manningham, Bradford. His father was a headmaster. His mother died when he was just two years old and his father remarried four years later. Priestley was educated at Belle Vue Grammar School, which he left at sixteen to work as a junior clerk at Helm & Co., a wool firm in the Swan Arcade. During his years at Helm & Co. (1910–1914), he started writing at night and had articles published in local and London newspapers.
He established himself in London as a freelance writer with mainly literary work, writing essays, reviews, biographies, as well as reading for John Lane, the publisher. It was a period of great activity with book after book appearing, punctuated by the terminal illness of his wife, the death of his father, and his second marriage. He moved from non-fiction to fiction, and achieved remarkable success with his fourth novel, The Good Companions.
Priestley served in the army during the First World War. He was badly wounded in June 1916, when he was buried alive by a trench-mortar. He spent many months in military hospitals and convalescent establishments, and on 26 January 1918 was commissioned as an officer in the Devonshire Regiment, and posted back to France late summer 1918.
After his military service, Priestley received a university education at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. By the age of 30 he had established a reputation as an essayist and critic. During the Second World War, he was a regular broadcaster on the BBC.
He died on 14 August 1984.
This play brings out the miserable condition of mothers in most homes. A mother works from morning till night to satisfy the needs of her husband and children. She cleans, sweeps, washes and cooks but she gets no reward or praise for her labours. She works like a machine throughout the day but they never realize that she, too, is a human being and needs rest. Do we ever think of it? If we don’t, we need to be chastised in some way. This is what this play is all about.
Characters in the Play
1. Mrs. Annie Pearson – wife of George Pearson, a loving wife and mother, fond of her husband and children, does her best to keep them happy, simple-hearted, gentle to a fault, too weak to protest, works day and night – no rest, submissive,
2. George Pearson -husband of Mrs. Annie Pearson, about fifty, self-important and pompous, neglects his wife, club members backbites and make fun of him.
3. Doris Pearson -daughter of George Pearson, a spoilt girl of around 20, the elder. She is already into an affair with a young boy, named Charlie Spence.
4. Cyril – Son of George Pearson, a spoilt child.
5. Mrs. Fitzgerald –a neighbour of Mrs. Annie Pearson, a bold, talented, strong, liberated, dominating and aggressive woman, knows some magic, drinks, smokes and plays cards, lives life on her own terms.
Mrs. Pearson and Mrs. Fitzgerald are neighbours. One afternoon Mrs. Fitzgerald visits Mrs. Pearson. The two women sit comfortably in the living-room. While taking tea, Mrs. Fitzgerald tells Mrs. Pearson her fortune with the help of cards. According to her, Mrs. Pearson’s problem is that she is excessively fond of her husband and children. She runs after them all the time, takes their orders as if she were the servant in the house, and stays at home every night while they go out enjoying themselves. They have come to believe that she is there simply to wait on them, so they take no notice of her. Mrs. Fitzgerald advises her that she should assert her rights as the mistress of the house if she wants them to treat her properly.
Mrs. Fitzgerald asks her to let them wait or look after themselves. Mrs. Pearson says that she can’t do it. Mrs. Pearson is puzzled. At this Mrs. Fitzgerald tells her plan and says that they would change their personalities with each other. She had learnt this
art when she was in East. Mrs. Pearson hesitates. But Mrs. Fitzgerald holds her hands, asks her to keep quiet and not to think about anything and look at her. The two woman stare at each other. Mrs. Fitzgerald recites a spell. Gradually their personalities change bodies. Now Mrs. Pearson is bold and domineering while Mrs. Fitzgerald is nervous and agitated.
After a few moments Doris Pearson enters the room violently and orders her mother to iron her yellow silk as she is to wear it that night. She is astonished to see her mother smoking. Mother has not got her tea ready. She is in no mood to iron her yellow silk for her. She is rather thinking of going out and get a meal at the Clarendon. Doris is astounded at unusual behaviour of her mother. Then she tells her mother that she is going out with Charlie Spence. Mother severely asks her whether she could not find anybody better than buck teeth and half-witted Charlie Spence. This is too much for Doris. She runs out of the room with tears in her eyes.
Then Cyril Pearson enters. She has not put his things out though she had promised that morning to look through them in case there was any mending. He wonders what is going on in the house. He stands aghast when she tells him that she wants stout to drink and moves to the kitchen. She takes a bottle of stout and a half-filled glass. Cyril and Doris are unable to control their laughter. Mrs. Pearson looks at them with contempt and asks them to behave like grown-ups. With tearful eyes, Doris asks why she is talking like that and what wrong they have done. She asks mother whether she had fallen or hit herself with something. Mother rebukes her for asking such a silly question. Doris begins to cry. Mother coldly asks her to stop crying noisily like a baby.
Just then, George Pearson enters. He notices Doris’s tears and asks why she is crying. Doris runs out of the room sobbing. He is astonished to see his wife sipping stout. He tells her that he doesn’t want any tea as he would have supper at the club. Mrs. Pearson tells him that there is no tea ready. He is annoyed to know that his wife didn’t get tea ready for him. Mrs. Pearson laughs at his childishness and remarks that if he behaved like that at the club they would laugh at him even more than they do now. George is surprised to know that they laugh at him at the club. Mrs. Pearson continues that he is one of their standing jokes. They call him Pomp-ompy Pearson because they think he is so slow and pompous. George is shocked. He staggers out of the room.
There is a knock at the door. Cyril hurries out and re-enters bringing in Mrs. Fitzgerald. She asks Mrs. Pearson whether everything is all right. Cyril remarks sulkily that everything is wrong. Mrs. Pearson asks him sharply to keep quiet. Cyril walks out of the room. Mrs. Fitzgerald is surprised at this turn of events and asks Mrs. Pearson nervously what she has been doing. Mrs. Pearson tells her calmly that she has been just putting them in their places, and they will be eating out of her hand soon. Just then, George enters the room. He is looking very sullen. Mrs. Fitzgerald watches all this helplessly. She is utterly confused. She tries to stop Mrs. Pearson in vain. George and Doris are bewildered at this turn of events. They stare at Mrs. Fitzgerald. She requests them to leave her alone with Mrs. Pearson and promises that everything will be all right. George and Doris leave the room. Mrs. Fitzgerald urges Mrs. Pearson that they should now regain their proper personalities.
Mrs. Pearson wants to continue a bit more of it but Mrs. Fitzgerald would not listen to her. She says that they are already very miserable and she cannot bear it any more. She stretches her hands across the table eagerly. Mrs. Pearson takes them. They stare at each other, and exactly as before Mrs. Pearson recites the spell. They become their proper personalities. Mrs. Fitzgerald advises Mrs. Pearson not to go soft on them again, otherwise it will all have been wasted. Mrs. Fitzgerald warns her that she must not start giving explanations asking for apologies, otherwise she will be straight back where she was.
When Mrs. Fitzgerald leaves the room, she finds George, Doris and Cyril standing in a row at the doorway. The family looks anxiously at Mrs. Pearson. She smiles. They feel much relieved and they smile back at her. Mrs. Pearson tells them what she thought they would do at night. They would have a nice family game of rummy. Then children could get the supper ready while she has a talk with their father. Thus Mrs. Fitzgerald helps Mrs. Pearson to become the boss of her family. When she goes out, the family lovingly clusters round mother.
Short Answer Questions
Q1. What picture of Mrs. Pearson emerges in the opening of the play ‘Mother’s Day’?
Ans. Mrs. Pearson is in her forties. She is a pleasant looking woman. She is a typical housewife. She takes delight in serving her family, though they take no notice of her. Even if they are thoughtless and selfish, she is very fond of them. She bears with them patiently as she does not want any unpleasantness in the house.
Q2. What was Mrs. Fitzgerald’s advice to Mrs. Pearson?
Ans. She advised Mrs. Pearson to be the boss of her own family.
Q3. Why is Mrs. Fitzgerald insisting upon Mrs. Pearson’s being the boss of her family?
Ans. Because Mrs. Pearson’s husband and children considered her as a housemaid rather than a loving and caring mother and wife. They treated her like a slave, ordered her to make tea and never thought that she, too, is a human being and needs rest. They thought that it was her duty to work for them while they never considered her work as work.
Q4. How was Annie Pearson responsible for her fate?
Ans. To a certain level, Annie Pearson was herself responsible for her fate. She loved and cared for her children and husband so much that they failed to understand her value and worth
. She had wished to correct them but for fear of hurting them, she didn’t mention it.
Q5. Write down Mrs. Fitzgerald’s opinion about a perfect household?
Ans. In a perfect household all the family members should be considerate towards the lady of the house. They are not supposed to order her but are supposed to lend a helping hand in the smooth running of the family. The lady sacrifices her entire life making the family happy and comfortable. She should be given due regard and recognition.
Q6. How did Mrs. Fitzgerald offer to help Mrs. Pearson to set her family right?
Ans. Mrs. Fitzgerald tells her plan and says that they would change their personalities with each other. She had learnt this art when she was in East. Mrs. Fitzgerald would look like Mrs. Pearson and vice versa. Thus Mrs. Fitzgerald offered to set Mrs. Pearson’s family right for her.
Q7. What were the immediate effects of the magic spell?
Ans. When it was spelled, the two women stirred out of their selves and transformed into contrasting characters. Annie became bold and started behaving like Mrs. Fitzgerald. She snatched the cigarette from Mrs. Fitzgerald’s mouth and put it in her own mouth.
Q8. How is George Pearson treated at the club?
Ans. The members of the Club laugh at George Pearson. His wife Mrs. Pearson says, “He is their one of their standing jokes at the club.” They call him “Pompy-Ompy” Person because they think him very “slow and pompous”. She tells that people always laugh at him behind his back. They call him names but he is quite unaware about all this.
Q9. Mrs. Pearson was behaving strangely but her children were making fun of her. What does this show?
Ans. Mrs. Pearson, after having undergone a change in her personality started behaving with her children Cyril and Doris severely but they did not take her seriously. Deris said she might have hit her head and had a concussion, which caused her strange behaviour. She began to giggle and Cyril felt it very strange. He wanted to stay and see what would happen on the arrival of their father.
Q10. Mention three things in the behaviour of mother that astonish Doris Pearson.
Ans. First, mother, as usual, has not got tea ready for her. Secondly, mother’s smoking. Thirdly, she is not in mood to iron her silk that she intends to wear that evening.
Q11. How does mother make fun of Charlie Spence?
Ans. Charlie Spence is Doris’s boy-friend. She intends to go out with him that evening. But mother makes fun of Charlie Spence. She says that Charlie has buck-teeth and he is half-witted. She wonders whether Doris could not find of anyone better than Charlie Spence.
Q12. Why is Cyril Pearson astonished at mother’s behaviour?
Ans. First, mother has not got tea ready for him, as usual. Secondly, she has not got his things ready though she had promised in the morning to look through them in case there was any mending. Obviously, he is astonished at strange behaviour of the mother. Then, mother asks him whether there is any stout left in the house. He wonders why mother needs stout.
Q13. What, according to Doris, could be the reason for mother’s strange behaviour? Does Cyril agree with her?
Ans. According to Doris, mother might have hit her head or something that could have been the cause of her strange behaviour, Cyril agrees that mother’s behaviour was rather, odd but Doris’s idea seems to him too far-fetched.
Q14. What is mother’s future plan as revealed to Doris?
Ans. Mother tells Doris that she would work like them forty hours a week and have two days off i.e. Saturday and Sunday. She might make their bed or do a little bit of cooking on her off- days if she is properly asked and thanked for everything she does. She adds that she might go off on weekend days for a change.
Q15. Why does Doris ask mother whether she had fallen or hit herself with something? How does mother react to it?
Ans. Doris asks mother whether she had fallen or hit herself with something because she is under the impression that mother had gone barmy because of some violent shock. Mother becomes aggressive to hear this and asks her to behave properly and stop asking such silly questions.
Q16. What is odd, according to Mrs. Pearson, in the behaviour of George, when he is annoyed with her for not getting his tea ready?
Ans. George tells Mrs. Pearson that he does not want any tea. When Mrs. Pearson tells him that there is no tea ready for him he gets annoyed. She wonders why he is annoyed at not getting his tea ready while he does not want it. This seems rather odd to her.
Q17. How does Mrs. Pearson make fun of her husband?
Ans. Mrs. Pearson tells her husband that they laugh at him at the club and call him Pompy- ompy Pearson because they think he is so slow and pompous. When his son Cyril also confirms it, he is shocked and staggers out of the room.
Q18. Why is George Pearson astonished when Mrs. Fitzgerald calls him ‘George’? How does Mrs. Pearson make fun of him?
Ans. Mrs. Fitzgerald is their neighbour. Obviously, George Pearson is astonished when she informally calls him ‘George’. Mrs. Pearson makes fun of him saying that his name is, after all, George, and then asks him mockingly whether he thinks he is Duke of Edinburgh.
Q19. Why did Mrs. Fitzgerald request Mrs. Pearson to change back? Who were these two ladies actually?
Ans. Mrs. Fitzgerald was, in fact, Mrs. Pearson in Mrs. Fitzgerald’s body. She saw how miserable her husband and children were feeling. She could stand it no longer. So she requested Mrs. Pearson to change back.
Q20. What was Mrs. Fitzgerald’s final advice to Mrs. Pearson?
Ans. She advised Mrs. Pearson to be tough on them for a couple of hours. She also forbids to feel sorry for the drama and give any explanation or apology. If she stays firm, they will eat out of her hands obediently.
Q21. What change do you notice in George, Doris and Cyril at the end of the play?
Ans. They are no longer thoughtless and overbearing in their behavior. Cyril and Doris agree to get supper ready while their mom have a talk with their father. She also asks for a nice family game of rummy. All agree with her. She finally thanks her neighbour and bids her goodbye. As she walks out of the room, the family gathers round mother.
Long Answer Type Questions
Q1. Give a brief character-sketch of Mrs. Pearson.
Ans. Mrs. Pearson is a loving wife and mother. She is very fond of her husband and children. She looks to all their needs. She does her best to keep them happy. Mrs. Pearson is a simple-hearted woman. But she is gentle to a fault. She does feel that her husband and children are thoughtless. Her husband and children work eight hours a day and five days a week. But the poor mother has to work all the hours of the day and all the days of the week. Yet the husband and the children have for her no word of praise or gratitude. This is what pains Mrs. Pearson. But, she is too weak to protest. It is Mrs. Pearson’s own weakness that has spoiled her husband and children.
Q2. Give a brief character-sketch of Mrs. Fitzgerald.
Ans. Mrs. Fitzgerald is Mrs. Pearson’s neighbour. She is a strong-minded woman. She has a dominating nature. She believes in equal rights with men. She believes that women have the liberty to do anything that men do. Mrs. Fitzgerald feels strongly that the woman should be the mistress of her own house. Mrs. Fitzgerald is very intelligent also. She knows how to cure people of their waywardness. She handles Doris, Cyril and George very intelligently. She gives each of them a good pounding. She puts them in their proper places. She makes them realise that a mother and a wife is also a human being. Thus she helps Mrs. Pearson to rein in her husband and children.
Q3. How were George, Doris and Cyril all ungrateful to Mrs. Annie Pearson?
Ans. George, Doris and Cyril are all ungrateful. Each is worried about himself or herself only. George doesn’t want tea, yet he grows angry with his wife because she hasn’t made any tea for him. Doris wants her mother to iron her yellow silk dress because she is going out to meet her boyfriend. Cyril says he is tired after his eight-hour day. But none of them ever thinks of poor Mrs. Pearson’s fate. Everybody orders her about as if she is their servant. Really they are all very ungrateful.
Q4. How did Mrs. Fitzgerald help Mrs. Pearson to be the boss of her family?
Ans. Mrs. Fitzgerald is Mrs. Pearson’s neighbour. She offers to help Mrs. Pearson in setting her family right. She knows some magic, and effects a change of personality with Mrs. Pearson. Now she looks as if she were Mrs. Pearson and vice versa. She sends Mrs. Pearson to her own house and herself stays in Mrs. Pearson’s house. When Doris, Cyril and George come in, she deals with them very severely. She makes them realize how unfeeling and selfish they are. Thus Mrs. Fitzgerald helps Mrs. Pearson to be the boss of her f
Q5. ‘Husbands, sons, daughters should be taking notice of wives and mothers, not giving them orders and treating them like dirt.’ What do you think about it?
Ans. The problem of wives and mothers is a universal one. Husbands, sons and daughters treat them like dirt. They order them about as if they were their servants. They go out to enjoy with their friends, leaving the poor mothers and wives at home. They think they have done much work during the day. And when they come home, they want to be served like kings and princes. Really, it is something very unfortunate. All husbands, sons and daughters must think that the poor wife and the mother is also a human being and has the same feelings and desires as they have.
Q6. Contrast the characters of Mrs. Pearson and Mrs. Fitzgerald.
Ans. Mrs. Pearson is a loving mother and a gentle wife. She works hard to keep her husband and children happy. But she gets no praise or regard for it. Her husband and children are very thoughtless and selfish. They treat her as a servant. Mrs. Pearson feels unhappy about it. But she is too weak to protest.
On the other hand, Mrs. Fitzgerald is very outspoken. She can brook no injustice. She believes in equal rights with men. To make it clear, she even smokes and drinks. She says that husbands, sons and daughters should take notice of wives and mothers. They should not treat them like dirt. She asks Mrs. Pearson to be the boss of her family.
Q7. How does Mrs. Fitzgerald put Doris, Cyril and George in their places?
Ans. Mrs. Fitzgerald knows some magic. She uses it to change her personality with that of Mrs. Pearson. Soon Mrs. Pearson’s daughter, Doris, comes in. She asks Mother for tea, but Mother says that there is no tea ready for her. Doris had wanted her mother to iron her yellow silk. But the mother refuses to do any ironing for her. Doris has never seen her mother behave like this. She is in tears. When Cyril and George come in, they, too, receive the same kind of treatment. Mother tells them that henceforth she, too, will work eight hours a day and five days a week. While all this is going on, Mrs. Fitzgerald (who is in fact Mrs. Pearson) enters. The two ladies change back into their real personalities. They heave a sigh of relief when Mrs. Pearson calls them back with a smile. But now they have learnt their lesson. Thus Doris, Cyril and George are brought to their places.
Q8. Bring out the theme of the play ‘Mother’s Day.
Ans. In this play, Priestley tries to depict the fate of most housewives. The poor housewife has to work all hours of the day and all days of the week. She works hard to keep her husband and children happy. But the husband and children are almost always thoughtless. They have no regard for the feelings of the poor mother. They treat her as a servant. Alter their work, they go out to spend their evening with friends. The poor mother has to stay at home and keep working. Her husband and children never think that she, too, is a human being. They never realise that she, too, needs some rest and entertainment. Such husbands and children need to correct themselves.