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Jessie as the Most Sympathetic Character of “Night, Mother” by Marsha Norman Essay

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Updated: Dec 4th, 2021

Introduction

Reading any story, novel, or play involves picking out the most sympathetic character. Sometimes it is not easy to determine which of the characters deserves to be called “sympathetic”, especially after looking through Deanna Carlyle’s list of sympathetic character traits. Most readers consider sympathetic those characters who suffer a lot and who they feel compassion for. However, Deanna Carlyle points out that a sympathetic character is the one “who picks herself up quickly and takes action when she’ down, rather than wallowing in the emotional mire for chapters on end” (Carlyle), which makes sympathetic those characters who can overcome their problems without sparing themselves.

Main body

The play “Night, Mother” by Marsha Norman does not abound with characters, Jessie and her mother, Thelma, being two central and almost the only ones. Jessie is the most sympathetic character of the play since she has been born unhappy, has lived a miserable life, and suffered several injustices throughout it.

To begin with, that Jessie was destined to be unhappy since she had an inborn disease, epilepsy. People born with this disease differ from the others significantly for they cannot be full-fledged members of society. Jessie, just like other people with epilepsy, could not get a driving license and, therefore, drive a car, because epileptic seizures occur suddenly and may lead to car accidents. Moreover, her disease did not let her find a job since each employer wishes to have only healthy personnel. Jessie was forced to always stay in her mother’s house being a prisoner of it. She can be treated as “a character who is an underdog” (Carlyle) for society denied her and placed her in a position of inferiority. Unlike her mother, who also deserves some sympathy due to her husband’s death and her daughter’s intention to kill herself, Jessie’s life is more intolerable because of her disease. Thus, Jessie can be considered the most sympathetic character of the play since she was an outsider and a person with disabilities unable to live her life to its full extent; however, her disease is not the only factor to be taken into account.

What else should be mentioned is that Jessie did not have any luck in creating a loving family each woman desires to have. She had a husband and a son but she has never been happy with them. Her husband did not seem to have loved her ever, “I never was what he wanted to see, so it was better when he wasn’t looking at me all the time” (Norman 41). This fact, perhaps, arouses more compassion than her disease because there is nothing more terrible for a woman than a husband who does not love and value her, a husband who makes her realize her lack of beauty and attractiveness. Thelma was also unhappy with her husband, Jessie’s father, since she never loved him,” Mama: All right. Ask me whatever you want. Here. Jessie: Did you love Daddy? Mama: No” (Norman31), but they still were together till his death, whereas Jessie had to bring up her son alone. What’s more, Jessie did not succeed in bringing up her son as a decent person for he grew into a troublesome delinquent drug addict. Unhappy experience with raising a child can be frustrating for a woman for she usually blames herself for being unable to give her child proper care and education. Nevertheless, Jessie was in her thirties which means that she was quite young and could try to find her happiness, which makes her “a character who is not perfectly beautiful or emotionally well-adjusted, who has room to grow, but who is not so damaged that I don’t see much hope for her in a romantic relationship” (Carlyle). It is hard to disagree that Jessie has gone through several troubles in her life, but this should not have stopped her on her way to becoming happy. She should have hoped that there still could be some reward for these sufferings of hers; people of her age are still able to find second halves, and Jessie is not an exception. If she tried to change her life instead of giving up, she would succeed. This allows considering Jessie a sympathetic character and contributes to revealing the last reason why she can be referred to as this type of character.

Finally, Jessie can be a sympathetic character for her “motivations, though perhaps misguided, are understandable” (Carlyle). Indeed, Jessie had tolerated all the misfortunes in her life and broke because she was exhausted. Her motivations can be understood because it is hard for a person to endure when life is treating him/her unfairly. Everything did not work out in her life; she was hopelessly sick, she could not get a job, her husband left her, her son was a criminal, her father died, and her life was miserable. When people confront with such a great amount of difficulties, they start thinking about whether their life is indeed worth living. Such people are never afraid of death for, in most cases, they have nothing to lose. Unlike her mother, Jessie is displaying decisiveness and an absence of fear of death. Even her mother’s attempts to dissuade her in committing suicide are unsuccessful, “ Mama: That gun’s no good, you know. He broke it right before he died. […] Jessie: Seems O.K. […] Mama: Those bullets are at least fifteen years old. Jessie: These are from last week” (Norman14). What Jessie has gone through in her life serves as a motivation for her actions and allows considering her a sympathetic character.

In conclusion, Jessie from “Night, Mother” by Marsha Norman is a sympathetic character for several reasons. She was an outsider because of her disease which did not let her work or live as other people do, she failed to create a family, and she had never felt herself beloved. Her desire to commit suicide can be justified for she had gone through a lot of misfortunes with nobody to help and comfort her. Though her mother attempted to dissuade her, she did not succeed in this. It can be presumed that she did not try hard enough because this was how she wanted to end her life. She was not bold enough to commit suicide and, perhaps, this is why she allowed her daughter to kill herself. Jessie can be considered a sympathetic character because she evokes sorrow and compassion in readers making them find a way out of the situation for her.

Works Cited

Carlyle, Deanna. “35 Springboards for Creating Sympathetic Characters”. Articles. 2005. Deanna Carlyle. (2009). Web.

Norman, Marsha. Night, Mother. Dramatists Play Service, 1983.

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IvyPanda. "Jessie as the Most Sympathetic Character of “Night, Mother” by Marsha Norman." December 4, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/jessie-as-the-most-sympathetic-character-of-night-mother-by-marsha-norman/.

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