Paintings of this era are often derided for being too straight-forward, lacking subtlety. This work should put that criticism to rest. At first glance it seems to be a standard domestic setting; mother is putting the dishes in the machinery for ritual ablutions and purification. She is assisted by one of her daughters. A pineapple - a symbol of hospitality in some cultures, a symbol of ambivalence in others - sits on the counter between the plate-bearing daughter and the youngest child, who sits with three generations of menfolk. Between all of them, they couldn’t give a bleep about helping with dishes.
The youngest one turns. Does she see in the next room her own future of rigid servility? Or has her enigmatic smile suggest that she has decided, as the vernacular had it, to “screw all that”?
Some scholars insist that the white-haired figure on the right is actually a Grand Mother, but if that was the case the morays of the time would require her to be in the kitchen, offering support to the woman for her choice of dishwashing detergent, and complimenting her on the moistness of the turkey.
Unless she was a "mother-in-law," a peculiar legal construct; if that was the case, she would suggest a different detergent, one that wasn't so expensive, or offer a hint about making the bird better next time, or making a note about how the girls don’t seem to hold their cutlery correctly, or something. I mean it’s always something with her. You just can’t make her happy. Nothing is ever good enough for her. Would John say anything to her? Oh not John, not about his sainted Mother. He’d just say you’re being sensitive again. And then Mother would smile as if butter wouldn't melt in that bitter, acid-filled mouth of hers. Bitch.