All The Years Of Her Life Summary

Morley Callaghan

All The Years Of Her Life

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All The Years Of Her Life Summary

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“All the Years of Her Life” is a short story by Canadian author Morley Callaghan, first published in his collection Now That April’s Here and Other Stories in 1936. Set in a drugstore in an unknown city, it centers around a young man named Alfred Higgins, who is caught by his boss stealing items from his workplace. Instead of calling the police, the owner, Mr. Carr, calls Alfred’s mother to discuss her son’s actions. Exploring themes of a mother’s devotion to her son, as well as forgiveness, moral choices, and the consts of one’s actions, “All the Years of Her Life” is one of Callaghan’s most popular and enduring stories and has been compared to the works of Russian authors Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy for its realist style and exploration of the lives of everyday people. In 1974, it was adapted into a short film directed by Robert Fortier, which stayed faithful to the plot.

“All the Years of Her Life” begins at the drugstore, where Alfred Higgins is getting ready to leave work for the day. As he puts on his coat, the owner, Sam Carr, pulls Alfred aside for a talk. Alfred realizes something is wrong because of the way Sam is speaking. As Alfred’s heart beats faster, Sam orders him to remove from his pocket the items he’s stolen, which include toothpaste and lipstick. Alfred tries to protest, but is too scared to speak clearly. As he empties his pockets, Mr. Carr asks him how long he’s been stealing from the store. Alfred claims this is the first time, but Mr. Carr knows he’s lying. Alfred has a history of irresponsible behavior and has been fired from many jobs before. Mr. Carr tells Alfred that he tried to trust him, but can’t anymore. He doesn’t want to ruin the boy’s life, though, and instead of calling the police, he decides to call Alfred’s father. Alfred says his father isn’t at home, so Mr. Carr decides to call Alfred’s mother, over Alfred’s protests. He tells her that Alfred is in trouble and she should come to the store for a talk.

They wait until Mrs. Higgins arrives at the store. Mr. Carr explains that Alfred has been stealing small items from the store, and Mrs. Higgins asks her son if it’s true. Ashamed, Alfred admits that it is. His only explanation is that he’s been spending too much money with his friends. Mr. Carr says that he has no real choice but to call the police over this, and Mrs. Higgins tells him gently that what she actually thinks her son needs is some good advice. Alfred is shocked to see his mother look so calm and composed, and he senses that she’s winning Mr. Carr over. Alfred’s mother continues to talk to Mr. Carr, and eventually Mr. Carr agrees that he doesn’t want to be too harsh. He says he’s decided to fire Alfred and not take the matter to the authorities. Mrs. Higgins thanks him for his kindness, saying she’ll never forget it, and the two of them part warmly as she leaves with Alfred. As they walk home together, Alfred is timid, grateful to his mother but wondering what’s going through her mind. He finally gets up the courage to thank her and promise not to do it again, but she snaps at him, telling him he’s disgraced her again and to keep quiet.

When they arrive home, Alfred’s mother criticizes him more, and then orders him to go to bed. She tells him to never mention the incident to his father. Alfred goes upstairs and gets undressed. He hears his mother moving around in the kitchen downstairs, and realizes she’s making herself a cup of tea. He’s suddenly filled with wonder and admiration for her strength. He goes down to the kitchen to watch her as she drinks, and is shocked. She no longer looks like the calm woman she appeared to be at the drugstore. Her face is full of fright, and her hand trembles as she pours herself the tea. Alfred realizes that she looks much older than he’s used to seeing her. With a start, he realizes that this is how his mother must have felt every time he’s gotten into trouble. It’s taking a toll on her every time she bails him out, but she does it anyway. He now understands what must have been going through her mind while they walked home in silence. Looking at her, he feels that he finally understands all she went through in her life and feels like he’s looking at her for the first time.

Morley Callaghan was a Canadian novelist, short story writer, playwright, and radio/television personality. A member of the Order of Canada, the Order of Ontario, and the Royal Society of Canada, he was one of the most admired and decorated writers in Canada’s 20th century. He has been honored with a commemorative postage stamp, and his life story has been told in an episode of the CBC Television series Life and Times. He is the author of thirteen novels, six novellas, eleven collections of short fiction, two works of nonfiction, and four plays, and his works have twice been adapted into major motion pictures (Now That April’s Here in 1958 and The Cap in 1984).