Reader Response

Reading “Terrific Mother” as a Woman

Brittani Cooper

The short story “Terrific Mother” is a fantastic example of who women are supposed to be and what they are supposed to think, but it also provides readers with a chance to live out their response to this text. All of the feminist twists and turns in this short story allow readers to reflect on their responses and decide how they will use what they take away. Lorrie Moore’s short story elicits responses of realization that women can fill many roles, and not just the ones that society has normalized.

For centuries, women have been told who they are, what they are, and what they can and cannot do. They have certain expectations that are placed upon them by society, and Lorrie Moore has effectively demonstrated them for her readers in this short story. For example, in the very first paragraph of the story, the main female character, Adrienne, is faced with something that she used to think was natural, “holding a baby” (Moore 3). For some women, this is natural to them and they accept that, but the reader can relate to the apprehension that is described in the story. There is pressure on Adrienne to fill her role in society as a mother and caregiver, but Adrienne is in that “demographic moment – whatever it was – when the best compliment you could get was: You would make a terrific mother” (Moore 3). For the reader, this is a pressure that is 100% recognizable, whether male or female, not just to be a parent, but to be a good one.

At one time or another, society and societal norms have placed pressure on one to do one thing or another, in this case, become a mother. Another role that Adrienne is supposed to fill in the short story is that of the dutiful wife and “a trailing spouse” (Macpherson 571). On the artistic retreat that Adrienne and Martin take, Adrienne is often asked by the guests “Are you one of the spouses?” (Moore 6). This is another recognizable role that Adrienne is fulfilling, but she doesn’t waste time in pointing out that her husband would be considered a spouse too. She also points out to Martin that all of the spouses are the women, and all of the scholars at the retreat are the men. Adrienne doesn’t care for being “patronized by a pompous academic” and in this scenario, Adrienne is subtly pushing back against the roles that society has in place for her, which is reflective of the response that a reader might have to this situation (International 300). Instead of large, drastic pushes, she keeps those societal norms within arms reach, as many people do today.

The reader’s response to this can be a sense of empowerment. In order to take something down, or destroy these societal norms, sometimes it is better to work from the inside, as Adrienne does, rather than the outside. Adrienne gets the chance to do a lot of self-exploration throughout the short story. Martin had brought her to this retreat in hopes of her becoming more life herself again, or like “a snake getting back inside of its skin” (Moore 27). This is a relatable occurrence that many readers would have a response to. At one time or another, likely every reader has attempted to do some self-exploration, and usually becomes better because of it. The reader could take this demonstration of taking a break from societal norms as an example of how Adrienne does not let these societal norms hold her down. She does not let anyone tell her who she has to be or how she has to behave, and if she did, then she probably wouldn’t have woken up in a field, naked, on pages 26 and 27.

Societal norms are placed on human beings from the second they come into this world. They will be a mother, a father, a scholar, an athlete, a good person, etc. They are expected to follow the norms and rules that society has placed in front of them, but it doesn’t always happen. Rules are meant to be broken, and sometimes it’s easier to break them from the inside than from the outside. Reading this short story can elicit a number of responses from readers, many of which will be for or against these societal norms. Realizing that women can fill any role they wish to, whether it is in line with societal norms or not, is just one of the many responses that Lorrie Moore’s short story elicits.

Works Cited

Falfoul, Nadia Boudidah. “Humoring the Context, Contextualizing Humor in the Short Fiction of Lorrie Moore.” International Journal of Humanities and Cultural Studies 2.3 (2015): 293.

MacPherson, Heidi Slettedahl. “‘Escape from the Invasion of the Love-Killers’: Lorrie Moore’s Metafictional Feminism.” Journal of American Studies, vol. 46, no. 3, 2012, pp. 565–580. JSTOR, Accessed 14 May 2021.

Texts and Contexts.



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Beginnings and Endings: A Critical Edition Copyright © 2021 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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