Mother/Young Mother

When we first meet Mother in Act One, Scene Two she appears to be a hugely stubborn, yet comic character. She blocks Boon at every opportunity, frustrating him hugely. However, as the play develops, we develop real sympathy for Mother and her situation – and realize there is a lot more to her than just a grumpy old woman. This becomes obvious when we see her as Young Mother, firstly being introduced to her new home by her husband, then being let down by him again.

Mother’s qualities

Very sentimental
‘That one? Malacca. September 1974. Honeymoon, hor’
In Act One, Scene Two Boon criticizes all the statues she has kept, including one with Scotch tape on. But to her the represent something much more than what they are – each one is associated with a particular event, usually linked with her husband or son.
Very stubborn
‘Don’t Ma me. You know how I feel about this place’
She is determined to stay in the house no matter what.
Quite comic at times
‘Makes me want to vomit’
’I open freezer can see already what’
Her objections to Boon’s various suggestions about what they could do if they sell the flat are very comic to start with, until she becomes much more defensive.
Critical of Boon at times
‘Think you so smart, go and buy property. In the end, everything also crash’
This comment in Act One, Scene Two seems to be a direct comment about some of Boon’s past failures as a property agent (one of which we find out about in A1, S4). However, it also shows that she remembers the past clearly – such as the Asian economic crisis of the 1990s – and can see that sometimes it is not always wise to look to it with such hope.
Has had quite a tough life
‘My whole life, I’ve lived inside borrowed walls, bathed in borrowed bathrooms, slept on borrowed floors’

‘I’m not going to work, I’m going to enjoy life’
The flat she is introduced to in Act 1, Scene 8 is the first which has ever belonged to her – before it has always been other people’s (perhaps renting or just old). It helps us to understand why she is so attached to it in the present and why she is refusing to sell it, despite its condition.
Seems very eccentric at times
‘Even the door knobs are…Beautiful’
Although Mother comes across as very eccentric at times, it demonstrates other aspects of her personality e.g. here, what a hard life she’s had, that she even finds the doorknobs beautiful! Boon often refers to her as a ‘Xiao zha boh’ (crazy woman).
Simple things make her happy
‘I like looking out of my window, at my little tree’
The tree has so many memories for her – of the fact her husband planted it for her (one of the only things he did), that she loves to look at it.
Very defensive
‘You don’t touch my tree. Don’t touch my statues. Don’t touch my things’
The repeated emphasis on the imperative ‘Don’t’ shows her strong defensiveness when she feels that she is being threatened.
Not ambitious
‘Your dreams are too big for me’
‘Everything also money money money’
She is satisfied with her new flat and doesn’t need anything else, despite her husband’s insistence on making things even better for her. She has the same criticism of Boon.
Disappointed by her husband
‘Why must you keep going Bangkok?’
By the end of Act One, Young Father has already proved to be not such a fantastic husband. This only grows once he disappears and is only a memory.
Likes to reminisce about the past
‘How much can they give me for a memory like that?’
She has so many memories and associations with the flat, that she cannot bear to be parted from it, no matter the amount of money. She also loves to remember things that happened in the past – particularly Boon running around as Superman dressed in a pair of red pants, which we actually see in A1, S13.


Mother’s goals
- She wants to die in her home with her ‘bloody fig tree’
- She wants to live in the past where her memories are happier
- She wants to find out what happened to her husband

Mother’s actions
- refusal to leave the flat
- talks about her past memories – reminds Boon about Superman, looks at her tree everyday, speaks to her neighbour about the past.
- Mother is SEMI-PASSIVE – she only reacts to the other actions that people are taking. Because of this, it becomes increasingly obvious that it is inevitable that she will need to move.

Mother’s obstacles
- Boon’s insistence on leaving
- The neighbours begin to put pressure on her to move
- The climate of change in Singapore e.g. the property boom driving the en bloc sale.