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I think that there could be several themes to this poem. I would say that one of the most overriding in my mind is the helplessness that loves ones feel when someone close to them is dying. There is an overall sensation of helplessness when the mother gets stung by the scorpion. The villagers come by and essentially are fairly worthless in alleviating the mother's pain. The father, skeptical of all of this, can only watch to see his wife endure pain. In a way, he is helpless as well because his skepticism and faith in Western medicine also does not necessarily help his wife. The pain of this is the inescapable fact that she is dying and there is nothing he can do to stop it. The ending of the poem reveals this helplessness when the mother says that she is glad it was her who took this and not the children. The overwhelming feeling of hopelessness in the face of such an awesome adversary such as death is a major theme I get out of this poem.
I am going to focus on a different theme of this poem and say that the theme of "selfless motherhood" is paramount. In order to understand this theme, we need only to look at the beginning and the end of the poem.
At the beginning of the poem, we learn that the speaker is the child of the mother who is stung.
I remember the night my mother
was stung by a scorpion.
It is the middle of the poem that contains the actions of the villagers all gathering around the mother in order to pray and to chant and to perform certain rituals and to use certain herbs. Despite all of the actions taken above, "after twenty hours / it lost its sting." This implies that none of the things the neighbors did (even the "holy man" with his "incantations") did anything to help this mother. In the end, she has only one thing to say:
My mother only said
Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.
Now THAT is true selflessness of a mother. She endured lots of pain and hardship (not to mention onlookers!), and ended in a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Even though we are not told this in the poem, if the scorpion stung one of the children, a death may have been imminent. (Think of Kino's little boy in The Pearl.) The lives of her children was worth the pain of "my mother twisted through and through / groaning on a mat." Why? Her children, her legacy, are more important than her own life.
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