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The Mother: Summary and Critical Analysis

Gwendolyn Brooks
The poem The Mother is an anti-abortion poem by the poet Gwendolyn Brooks. It is an emotional outpour of the sense of guilt by a mother who has performed one or more abortion. She first speaks to the mothers who have done abortions like herself. She tells them how they will never forget their ‘killed’ children. She gives a graphic description of the foetus (child in the womb) that is forced to be born dead by the mothers! She tells the mother what there would be children would have become, and what pleasures of bringing up children they will always miss.

After the first ten lines the speaker ten turns to her own ‘dim killed children’ and talks to them. She tells them how she has heard their voices in the air and how she has seen them in her dreams. She then tells them what she has said to them when she felt guilty. She has said in her mind how she has sinned against them, what she has stolen from them, and how she has taken their lives. For a few lines (24-32) she tries to make excuses, but they all fail, and she ends up by only saying that she loves ‘them all’. It seems that she can’t get rid of her guilt; she can only confess and express her love for them, for partial relief.

The poem 'The Mother' is specifically about female experience because it is based on a woman’s experience of aborting a child and then personally feeling guilty about it, as a mother. It is so typically ‘female’ in its subject, expression and theme that only a woman could have written it, and so it is. The speaker of the poem is a woman who has aborted a child, partly deliberately, and is now remembering the foetus. Like a typical ‘female’, this speaker is very sensitive, loving, tender-hearted and sentimental. Like an experienced mother who has experienced the process of bearing and bringing up a child, she knows so well the typical experiences and pleasures of having and bringing up a child. Details in the poem- like ‘winding the sucking-thumb’ or ‘scuttling off the ghost’ – are things which strikingly suggest that she at least knows every typical experience of a mother with a child.

The mother describes so perfectly the appearance of the foetus just aborted. The speaker says everything clearly. But the imaginations and poetic kinds of expression are notable. For example, the very beginning is striking. “Abortions will never let you forget. You remember the children you got that you did not get”. She brings vivid and poignant images to the mothers’ eyes: “The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair”. She reminds them what the babies would have become in the future. They would become singers or workers. When she talks about what the women will miss, she mentions some extremely typical experiences of a mother. In fact, there are suggestions in the poem that the speaker is not a single mother but the potentially mother women, who are warned not to commit the crime and sin of abortion. She could be the natural, universal and symbolic mother or the perfect form of the females. The poem is realistic. This must be what a mother feels after aborting a child. 

The poem’s simple language and spontaneous expression also add to its realism. Besides, the sentiment in the first and second part and the confusion in the third part are also strikingly realistic. The end is convincing, too. The images, the death and the feelings are also so real. This is the most striking feature in the poem.

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