Black Mother Woman

by Audre Lorde
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Analyze the last phrase of the poem "Black Mother Woman," "I learned from you / to define myself / through your denials," in terms of your understanding of the mother/daughter relationship. An oxymoron is a figure of speech that contrasts contradictory terms. What does Lorde mean by the oxymoron "heavy love"?

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I wouldn't say that "heavy love" is an oxymoron —certainly no more so than "tough love", a much more familiar expression. There's nothing about love that requires it to be unexacting or easy in any way or deprives it of the capacity to impose certain obligations. Expressions of love come...

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I wouldn't say that "heavy love" is an oxymoron—certainly no more so than "tough love", a much more familiar expression. There's nothing about love that requires it to be unexacting or easy in any way or deprives it of the capacity to impose certain obligations. Expressions of love come in many shapes and sizes, and "heavy love" and all it implies is simply one of them.

That said, Lorde's use of the term strongly implies that she received considerably more heaviness than love from her mother. For example, she explicitly states in the first line of the poem that she cannot recall her mother being gentle. She then goes on, however, to imply that she has become who and what she is due to her mother's "heavy love", which seems to be related to the concept of "tough love", whereby love is expressed through the imposition of rules and discipline.

The speaker senses that beneath her mother's tough exterior, there was always great beauty and love. For one reason or another, though, she was unable to show them. But the speaker, for her part, has managed to peel away the facade of anger that her mother always presented to the world to behold the beautiful spirit beneath.

In presenting such a facade of anger to the world and to her daughter, the speaker's mother was denying herself—denying herself all the good things that make for a decent, fulfilling life. But her daughter will not follow suit. She will not deny herself.

Instead, she will define herself through and against her mother's denials. The last few lines of the poem, therefore, can be seen as an empowering self-image, a celebration of life and self. The speaker is a "dark temple" where her mother's true spirit, the spirit that was always there beneath the anger and the heavy love, rises.

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