Mother’s day seems a good time to revisit an old favourite, Maxim Gorky’s Mother. Gorky intended the Mother and her story to be a symbol of the working classes and their journey from oppression to awakening and finally to emancipation. However, just for today, leave aside all symbolisms and see this simply as the story of a mother and you will find an immensely textured and poignant character.
When we are first introduced to the mother (Pelagea Nilovna) she is recently widowed, but hardly grieving. Her husband was a drunken, wife-beating, factory worker who had terrorized her for their entire married life. She has mutely accepted every injustice done to her, asking no questions, seeking no explanations. All her hopes now rest on her only son Pavel.
Pavel dealt with the brutality of his father by retreating into a shell, closing out his mother too in the process. With his father gone he seems to notice her again and yet, there seems to be discord within him. He studies books that are forbidden and talks of the suffering of the working class. His mother cannot understand most of what he says. His compassion and intelligence make her proud but she is afraid for him too because he alone seems to struggle against a life that everyone else, including her, has accepted. Soon Pavel’s comrades too start to come over and his house turns into an unofficial headquarters for their group. Soon she becomes Mother to them all. She cooks for them, knits for them, cries for them and prays for them.
In time, almost without her realising it, their cause becomes her own. She stands up to the people who rebuke her son and his friends. When Pavel is arrested, she takes forbidden leaflets to the factory disguised as a peddler. Eventually he is exiled to Siberia and the mother carries on her son’s work. “If our children, the dearest parts of our hearts, can give their lives and their freedom, dying without a thought for themselves, what ought I to do, a mother?”
Whatever your political beliefs may be, Mother will strike a chord because it is the story of mothers everywhere. I know my own mother has often been bewildered by the choices I made, yet she’s struggled to be supportive. I, like all mothers must come to terms with the fact that we cannot protect our children from the world. This is our story too. “Our children will be our judges” says mother in the book. May we all be judged kindly.
To my mother and to mothers everywhere, A Happy Mother’s Day.