Paddy’s mother is the only major female character in the novel. She works hard looking after four children. She is always busy, for example "feeding the girls" and “trying to educate" her children.
Despite her marital problems, she continues to keep the house tidy and to put nutritious meals on the table.
It is only when Paddy notes that things are not as tidy as usual in the morning that we realise just how difficult the situation has become for her.
His short sentence, “The table was still dirty” creates tension as we realise this is not usual and that something is wrong.
Doyle emphasises Mrs Clarke’s hard-working dedicated approach to parenting by contrasting Paddy’s family life with the other children in the novel.
Although it is obvious that the Clarke family are not affluent, they do have plenty of attention from their mother. They also have clothes - albeit hand-me-downs at times - and home-cooked dinners.
This is contrasted with Liam and Aidan for example, who don’t have a mother. There’s also Ian McEvoy who says of his mother’s feelings about their pet dog, “She likes him … she prefers him to me.”
Mrs Clarke is a combination of warmth and compassion. But she is also strict and firm. These traits make her an effective maternal figure, who nurtures her children but who is not over-protective.
We see how she can be physically affectionate when Paddy tells us that "she patted my head".
It is obvious from Paddy’s concern about his father’s behaviour - especially when he becomes physically abusive - that he loves his mother and does not like to see her unhappy.
She takes the time for all her children, and she cries when Sinbad is suffering with his burnt lips.
Mrs Clarke represents the fabric that holds Paddy's world together. Alongside her affection and warmth is a firm hand as she ensures he develops responsibility and a conscience.
Paddy’s reaction to her catching him stealing magazines from the shop shows how frightened he is and how he respects her authority.
His panic is shown in the list of things he imagines she might have been doing instead of watching him – “She’d been too far away. I looked like two of my cousins … She’d been looking at Cathy in the pram. She’d been too busy.”
The dramatic short sentences here build up tension until we find out that “She told my da and I got killed.” Her mothering skills include making sure that her children know right from wrong and face consequences for their actions.
Mrs Clarke’s life and situation is dominated by the gender roles given to her by society.
Ireland in the late 1960s was very traditional, the expectations for women involved home making and child rearing.
However, Paddy’s mother is portrayed as a strong character despite being a victim of the patriarchal society of the day.
She raises the children with a firm hand and Paddy is sometimes wary of her, during the shoplifting incident for example.
She is quick to slap Paddy when he refers to the neighbouring Corporation children as “Slum scum”, showing that she is not a snob and will make sure her children treat everyone with respect.
Despite being a victim of Mr Clarke’s bullying and often violent ways, she is a formidable presence and keeps things going on as usual for as long as possible.
It is only when the situation gets extremely tense that Paddy notices the difference in her running of the house - and even then the boys have to cope with the making of lunches etc without her for just one day.
She somehow maintains the strength to keep things as normal as possible for her family.
Paddy reports that "My ma read books. Mostly at night.” This shows that Mrs Clarke - while perhaps not an educated woman - is curious and intelligent.
Perhaps this is Doyle’s way of indicating that with her strength and determination she could have done many things with her life if opportunities beyond marriage and motherhood had been open to her.