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"The Mother" by Gwendolyn Brooks
Transcript of "The Mother" by Gwendolyn Brooks
The first line is personification; the abortion, itself, holds no bearing on whether you remember or forget it.
Short, frank, declarative nature makes the reader feel like s/he is being thrown into the situation. You remember the children you got that you did not get,
The speaker uses nostalgic-sounding syntax (“you remember...”) to draw the reader in.
The parallel structure, yet paradoxical nature, to reflect tension of narrator over the issue of abortion. The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair,
The singers and workers that never handled the air.
She immediately dehumanizes the potential child by referring to them “pulps”, as if she is trying to mollify her decision.
When the speaker says that the singers and workers “never handled the air”, she is seemingly placing the onus on the potential children rather than on herself - even though she was the one to decide to terminate her own pregnancy. You will never neglect or beat
Them, or silence or buy with a sweet.
You will never wind up the sucking-thumb
Or scuttle off ghosts that come.
The speaker highlights the perceived mistake of her abortion by remembering all the things that she will be unable to do with a child that she will never bear. You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye.
In this line, the speaker seems cannibalistic, comparing the fetus to “a snack” and referring to her desire for abortion as a “gobbling mother-eye”.
This may be representative of the guilt she feels. I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children. I have contracted. I have eased
The speaker uses a haunting decision of “ghostly cries” which irks the reader.
In these lines, the speaker uses the pronoun of “I” for the first time. This represents a shift in the poem from ambiguously addressing the reader to directly speaking in the first person.
“The voices of my dim killed children” heavily implies that the mother has terminated her pregnancy more than one time. My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck.
In this context, the speaker’s “breasts” symbolize human compassion for one another, since their primary purpose is that of providing for another individual. The speaker is lamenting the inability to provide this care for one of her own. I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
The word “Sweets” is capitalized, which suggests that she is addressing this line to her children. And your lives from your unfinished reach,
If I stole your births and your names,
Your straight baby tears and your games,
Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
The beginning of these lines seems to have the mother blaming herself for all of the experiences that, had she carried the pregnancy to term, her child would have experienced.
Despite being no evidence to describe a link between abortion and depression, these lines create significant evidence that the speaker feels some emotional connection the pregnancy that she terminated.
The speaker appears apologetic toward her unborn children as she tries to defend her desire to “be childless” but regrets how this decision must rob a human of their life.
She seems to contradict herself with the “deliberateness”/”not deliberate” aspect. However, the speaker believes that she made the right decision, even if there were some emotionally-draining consequences. Though why should I whine,
Whine that the crime was other than mine?
Since anyhow you are dead.
Or rather, or instead,
You were never made.
“Crime” may be double entendre. Not only do a number of people see abortion as a crime against humanity, but abortion may also have been illegal at the time.
In the second part, she seems to attempt to shift the blame - but then, in the following line, quickly goes back against that with her bluntness.
The last line implies that the writer is unsure of whether abortion is actually ending a human life. This doubt may be affecting her mood. But that too, I am afraid,
Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be
You were born, you had body, you died.
It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
Who does “you” refer to? Could it potentially switch antecedents?
The line is reminiscent of Resurrection, considering that the fetus had never been “born”, regardless of when one thinks life begins. This could suggest that the woman is Christian, and views abortion from that standpoint. Of course, in real life, religious preference plays no role in the statistical tendency of people to terminate a pregnancy. Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I
The title of the poem - “The Mother” - must be remembered. The poem fairly explicitly says that she has had an abortion and makes no attempt to describe any other children. One must wonder why the speaker still refers to herself as a mother. "...Politicians in every region of the country began to blame unwed black mothers for producing 'excessive' numbers of 'unwanted' black babies. [...] Worse, many politicians, policy makers, and ordinary citizens began claiming at midcentury that the wombs of poor black women, excessively and wantonly fertile, were the source of all problems in the black community (including poverty, juvenile delinquency, and urban disorders) and, by extension, in America as a whole. [...]
Consequently, beginning in the late 1940s and continuing with increasing determination throughout the postwar decades, politicians threatened unwed mothers of color with incarceration, sterilization, and removal from welfare rolls." Women who needed medical care after botched, illegal abortions were not always admitted to hospitals. When they were, they were often turned over to the police. Born in Topeka, Kentuckey
Devoted parents - father the son of a runaway slave
Comes from an African-American background
Her family was poor, yet functional
Integrated school where she was ridiculed by other blacks for the darkness of her skin
Well-knowned protest poet of social issues: poverty, race-inequality, female struggles, nationalism “The Mother” was the first published poem on abortion in America