The Poem “The Mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks Literature Review essay example
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The Poem “The Mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks Literature Review

The poem entitled “The Mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks interprets like an excerpt out of African American history. As a single work, it signifies a small piece of the struggle as experienced by African Americans, women specifically. The poem itself is about Abortion. Ironically, the statistical trend of Abortion is proportionally high in comparison to other cultures to this day. Abortions in the black community peak at about 35% of all abortions in total while the black community (both foreign and those with slave ancestry) only account for about 10% of the entire population of the country.
Ms. Brooks’ poem dates back to 1995; a time in which things were very different in and around the black community.

Advanced medical technology as seen in the 20th century is like no other. Women of color “Blacks/ African Americans” struggled for equality and rights. History has shown, that growing up in the south was vaguely impossible. Especially if a woman of color was to receive equal medical care or treatment as the “Whites.” For Gwendolyn Brooks, the inhumane atrocities African- American women endured in areas such as Mississippi during the early 1900’s til slavery ended was a lot of hardship and heartache. In Mrs. Brooks “The Mother”, a woman of color spoke in reference to the tragedy and non- child bearing consequences. Even to this day the infant mortality rate among African American women is higher than that of African women who were never forced here.

“The Mother” captures a piece of what some of the result of that inhumane and disparaging history had brought upon a descendant of these brave and strong women.

Much of Gwendolyn Brooks’ work depicted difficult life in the inner city and displayed the struggles of, mostly black, oppressed and marginalized people of the United States. “The Mother” reflects the inner conflict of wanting to do “the right thing” but not be able to because of a lack of resources. She may also have set as a goal to prophetically warn black people of self-destructive behavior. This “prophecy” would be a recurring theme throughout black consciousness in generations to come.

On the flat surface, this poem is about abortion and a woman’s struggle with not being a mother by her own design. On an interpretive level, this poem is one that has the element of the kaleidoscope. In this, this poem can be interpreted in many different ways. Much of it can be done through refocusing the interpretative lens to focus on the plethora of historical struggles of the African American.

The theme of the poem is that of the personal conflict of guilt and resolution. As the woman struggles through realizing the results of her decision, she also has to resolve her emotional plan of action. As we come to the end of the poem “the mother” decides that she will have to move.

The first line of the poem: “Abortions will not let you forget.” A mother never forgets her children (whether born or unborn). They are always instilled in the memory. Gwendolyn Brooks has a strong legacy as a black rights activist. As such, she would seek to drive the humanity of black women. Women who were unable to receive treatment for their were unborn or proper care for the children that they birth because of poverty are left with having to find the best way to fend for themselves.

Gwendolyn makes the statement, “black women feel the pains of a mother’s loss as well” with this poem. A direct line from the poem proves this relational attempt as a mother: “You remember the children you got that you did not get.”

Further down into the poem she jumps to a spiritual theme. The line: “I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children.” Memory can be an element of the spiritual. Abortion ‘never letting someone forget’ could signify that abortion in itself can trigger deep, but harmful, spiritual experiences. The spiritual element is not lacking from the poem. Perhaps influence by a deep spiritual heritage, the writer taps the reality behind the reality. Voices speaking in the wind are reminiscent of innocent blood crying from the ground. It’s almost as if to say “life speaks.” The speaking life in the poem is that of the children. The narrator can not escape except to drown the spiritual into the vacuum of human reason. At times selfishness speaks louder than “the word.”

This is a poem of the internal processor. That is of the marginalized woman trapped in a cycle and trying to get out. As freedom writer Gwendolyn offers her readers the opportunity to glimpse into the ability of a woman to decide on her own volition her she will handle the wrongs in her life. She says to the world these ills and vices of mine are “mine.” Observing from this point of view we notice that poem is somewhat of a monologue. No one else is involved in her thought process or her decision to resolve her issues in the way that she does. She makes her decision on her own and she is free to do so.

One other way to interpret the poem is through the lens of Gwendolyn’s portrayals of the hideous trials of the inner city. Her struggles and knowledge of the lives of others would have given her insight into the vicious cycles of individual marginalized people. Cycles are born out of bad decisions and self medicating. Perhaps she self medicates with sex in order to deal with her pain and instead of dealing with the consequences of her initial indiscretions, she would take the easy way out of Abortion. And although those abortions, “would not let you forget,” the individual would trap herself again and again because an inability to acquire the resources to properly care for the child.

She, the writer, not the caricature would have born into a generation not permissive to abortion and she may have been writing to save a generation from resorting to the worst act. She would seek to preserve the dignity of motherhood. Keep in mind that she would have been born during a time when poorer people would have upwards of eight or nine children. She would have observed two-parent homes of 80% of her parents’ generation and saw that number decline to 30% in the black community by the time she had passed. Gwendolyn hits the theme of self-destruction.

This theme would be echoed by conscious African American writer-activists as well as performers for decades to come. She fills a much needed void in her time by appealing to instincts of motherhood.

“Keeping it real” has always been a value in the black community. But, keeping it real is not simply when one is real about his or her own experiences but also, when any person empathizes with the struggles of others. In this sense, Gwendolyn is giving the narrator an appeal of a real thought life. She portrays someone who is struggling with the truth of what she has done and the fruitless results of her actions. In this she again relates to people who have a struggle. Regardless of the level of necessity of the act, the struggle is there. Whether it’s a married woman not wanting to give up more space in her life or a prostitute victimized by the small world of a pimp, the struggle is still the same. As stated, Gwendolyn loved to identify with and write about the struggle. And this “reality” would be reflective of that struggle. But still, in “keeping it real,” she can’t resolve the “right and wrong” of the situation.

What’s in a name? In the case of a poem, interpretation is in a name. The name of the poem in and of itself has a “deliberateness” of its own.”The Mother,” almost leaves the narrator of the poem to be mocked for her short-sightedness. She is a would-be mother lost between guilt and self-retribution. Form this angle of the kaleidoscope she should be a mother.

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In another sense from this perspective, she is tragically awakening to the loss of life in her own life. This brings us back to the excerpt of the black community. It is as if Ms. Brooks’ message is that you should be a mother but you’ve acted a fool; but what can fools do without the resources that a mother needs to properly care for her children.


Melham, D.H. (1998) Gwendolyn Brooks: Poetry and Heroic Voice. University of Kentucky Press.
Wright, Steven (2001) On Gwendolyn Brooks: Reliant Contemplation. University of Michigan Press
Gabbin, Joan, V (1999) The Furious Flowering of African American Poetry.
Saber, Yomma M (2010) Brave to be Involved: The Shifting Positions of Gwendolyn Brooks

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