The television adaptation of Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel “Normal People” premiered on Hulu in late April. Since its premiere, the show has received great praise from fans of the book, critics and even celebrities who have never heard of Rooney.
The response to the show is a testament to the skill of its actors, or maybe even a testament to the sex appeal of Connell’s chain, which currently has its own Instagram account with 81,000 followers. But for many viewers, Lorraine (Sarah Greene), Connell’s mother, shines throughout “Normal People” as the most dependable character, and possibly the only one with a solidified moral compass
While “Normal People” may center itself on Connell and Marianne’s tumultuous, passionate and raunchy love story, Lorianne balances their relationship with her ever-present motherly tenderness, serving as both a great parent to Connell and friend to Marianne.
Not much information is provided about Lorraine’s background in “Normal People.” She’s a single, working-class mother and has a job cleaning Marianne’s wealthy family home. It is safe to assume she’s tough and independent, having Connell at a young age and raising him all by herself.
In the first few episodes set in Connell and Marianne’s high school years, Marianne is dismissed as an outcast, because of her smarts, snark and the one time she took her top off in the girls’ bathroom to get a yogurt stain out of her shirt. Lorraine, without saying much at all, is one of the first, if not the very first, characters to see through Marianne’s social standing and recognize how deeply troubled the young girl really is.
I fell in love with Lorraine in the first five minutes of the very first episode, as she chastises Connell for his quick exit from Marianne’s home: “You could’ve said goodbye,” she says as they drive home. “You could also try being a bit nicer to her, she’s actually a very sensitive person.”
Later, Lorraine figures out, without Connell ever telling her, that her son has been sleeping with Marianne, proving once again her supernatural motherly senses. In the third episode, after she catches Marianne coming down from Connell’s room, she laughs giddily at her son while handing him the groceries to unload. “Did you think I didn’t know?” she asks him.
Connell, still wrapped up in high school politics, tries to ensure that his mother won’t spill about his secret relationship with Marianne. Showing some shades of her tough love, Lorraine gives Connell a look that could probably send any son to disgrace. “I won’t be gossiping about your sex life, Connell,” she says, pointing out the boy’s stupidity. In the scene, shame visibly reveals itself on Connell’s face.
She solidified herself, in my eyes, as the best character in “Normal People” later on in the third episode, after Connell tells her that he’s taking another girl, the more popular and judgmental Rachel, to the high school dance, or the “Debs.”
“Pull over,” she says sternly. “You’re f–king her and you wouldn’t say hello to her in public? I think you’re a disgrace and I’m ashamed of you.”
Because Connell and Lorraine have such a tight relationship, Lorraine’s words clearly carry a lot of weight with her son. In this powerful scene in the car, Lorraine demonstrates just how modern her priorities are. She doesn’t necessarily think her son is a disgrace because he’s having sex before marriage or because he’s drinking on the weekends with his friends, but rather because he’s disrespecting and hurting a completely undeserving Marianne just to stay popular in school.
Without reading too much into it, it’s easy to see how Lorraine could naturally empathize with Marianne, whose family and schoolmates have shunned and excluded her. And Lorraine very likely could have experienced similar treatment as a single mother in small-town Sligo. More than that, considering his close relationship with his mom and the storms she had to weather in order to bring him up, it probably stings Lorraine personally to see Connell treating Marianne so unfairly.
Before Lorraine insists that Connell lets her out of the car so she can walk home, she says: “If I stay in the car, I’m going to say things I regret.”
From that simple line, we get to see the depth of Lorraine. She’s no longer just a flat character or a single mom, but she’s a passionate human with emotions that get the better of her sometimes. Her restraint also shows her patience and grace as a parent, choosing her words carefully and prioritizing teaching her son a lesson over lashing out.
Her anger, rightfully, is still obvious, and it was hard to resist cheering her on in front of my TV. Lorraine put into words and actions what so many of us were feeling, but, as his mom, of course, her simple statement, even her silences, carry so much more impact on Connell.
There is something so satisfying about watching Lorraine tell Connell off in this way at this precise moment. For one, it’s a refreshing position for a maternal character to take. As Rooney’s novel and the series take place in Ireland, one historical reference paints a character like Lorraine as the archetypal “Irish Mammy.” This regional role commonly appears in Irish movies and literature to serve domestic duties and defend their offspring no matter what.
Lorraine adapts that role by using her bluntness to challenge her son to be the good person she knows he is. When Connell starts to feel guilty about the way he treated Marianne, he goes to his mother to find comfort. Remaining loyal to her values and beliefs, Lorraine doesn’t just hand her son forgiveness on a silver platter, like I was expecting. Instead, she says: “You did something really unkind … I don’t think it’s a bad thing that you’re feeling bad about this.”
As Daisy Edgar-Jones, the actress who plays Marianne, said on Twitter, “We all need a Lorraine in our lives.” Not all of us, like Marianne, have been lucky enough to have a champion like Lorraine fighting for us behind the scenes. Lorraine’s character on the well-loved “Normal People” will serve as a strong model for many.