Analyze "The Slave Mother" by Frances E.W. Harper.

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Frances E.W. Parker (1825-1911) was an African-American poet who was active in the movement to abolish slavery.  Her poem "The Slave Mother" illustrates one of the cruelest aspects of slavery: that children could be separated from their parents and sold to a different master.

The poem begins with the sound of a shriek that "seemed as if a burden'd heart / Was breaking in despair."  The poem describes the frightened appearance of a slave woman and her young son.

Stanzas 5-6 make effective use of anaphora: the repetition of a phrase.  The phrase "He is not hers" is repeated three times; this emphasizes the point that although the mother's "blood / Is coursing through his veins," the boy does not legally belong to the mother, but rather to the slavemaster, who may "rudely tear apart" this family by selling away the child.

Stanzas 7-8 describe the great joy that the child has brought to the mother.

In Stanza 9, the child is forceably separated from his mother:

They tear him from her circling arms,

    Her last and fond embrace.

 Oh! never more may her sad eyes

    Gaze on his mournful face.

The last stanza returns to the child's shriek and even repeats the phrase "heart...breaking despair."  This creates symmetry in the poem's structure.

The poem is written in stanzas of 4 lines (quatrains).  The rhythm is consistent: Line 1 - 8 syllables, Line 2 - 6 syllables, Line 3 - 8 syllables, Line 4 - 6 syllables.

The rhyme scheme is also consistent: abcb



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