Black Mother Woman

by Audre Lorde

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Describe the daughter's attitude toward her mother in the poem "Black Mother Woman."

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The daughter and narrator of the poem "Black Mother Woman" has an attitude towards her mother which is, in some respects, ambivalent but ultimately loving and forgiving. The daughter recalls her relationship with her mother when she, the daughter, was a child; in the first stanza, she describes the mother's love at that time as a "heavy love." In the first line of the poem, the daughter also says, addressing the mother, "I cannot recall you gentle." The implication here is that the mother was harsh and heavy-handed in her treatment of the daughter.

In the third stanza, the daughter seems, in retrospect, to empathize with the mother and perhaps also to forgive her. The daughter says, again addressing her mother, "I have peeled away your anger / down to the core of love." The implication here is that the daughter recognizes, in hindsight, that the mother always loved her, even if that love was surrounded and hidden by the mother's anger and harshness.

In the second half of the third stanza, the daughter's attitude towards her mother seems to be defined also by respect and admiration. She says that her mother's "true spirit" is "beautiful, / and tough as chestnut." The daughter also says that she has "learned" from her mother how to "define" herself. In other words, the mother's anger and harshness towards the daughter when the daughter was younger has helped the daughter to become a strong and independent woman.

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The speaker's attitude toward her mother is loving and respectful. She recognizes that she's the woman she is because of the way her mother brought her up. Though never gentle, the speaker's mother did nonetheless display "heavy love"—kind of like tough love—that made her who and what she is.

At the same time, the speaker respectfully declines to emulate her mother's outward behavior. This is because her mother was always angry towards the world, and her anger was reflected in the "heavy love" she showed towards her daughter.

Yet despite this, she has always had a core of love buried deep within her soul, and it's that love that her daughter has managed to discover for herself. In a remarkable piece of poetic imagery, we are shown that she has peeled back her mother's rough, angry exterior to behold the "dark temple" where her true spirit rises, the very core of her being. Having done so, the speaker now proudly proclaims that she is that dark temple.

She is confident enough to assert that she has learned from her mother to define herself through her denials. In other words, her mother always used to deny herself everything that could make her life happy, but her daughter, the speaker, has chosen a different path. She has defined herself through and against her mother's denials.

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