What does the reader know that the mother does not know? Explain why the mother's refusal to let her child join a demonstration by sending her to church instead is a powerful example of dramatic...

What does the reader know that the mother does not know? Explain why the mother's refusal to let her child join a demonstration by sending her to church instead is a powerful example of dramatic irony?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The reader may well know that Birmingham, Alabama, was a hotbed of racial tension and the 16th Street Baptist Church was an organizational setting for major players in the movement for racial equality.

The anonymous mother, who represents the six mothers who lost their children in the bombing, must not have realized that the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was the site of many meetings of the Southern Christian Leadership Council whose local organizer was the pastor in residence, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth [the Birmingham airport is now named after him]; in addition, James Bevel, SCLC leader who began the Children's Crusade, teaching youth about non-violence, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were regular speakers at this church. The bombing took place at this church because these men were often present, and the church was viewed as a center for racial protest.

Rather than allowing her child to go into the streets and partake in a racial freedom demonstration, which could, indeed, become dangerous, the mother, ironically, sends her daughter to the church where she believes her girl will be safe. This is an example of dramatic irony since there is a contradiction between what the mother believes (that her girl will be safe) and what the reader knows to be true (the church is not safe).

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows more than the character, and it generally serves to build tension in a text.  In this case, the mother in the poem is considered to be the character.  What we know (that she does not) is that the church to which she has sent her daughter with the intention of keeping the little girl safe will be bombed, and her daughter will die.  We know this because the poem alludes to a bombing that is a well-known tragedy in American history.  

Dramatic irony is created because the reader is aware that the little girl is in danger, while her mother is unaware. It is particularly powerful because the desire to keep one's child safe is such a universally relatable and visceral impulse. Readers should recognize the appalling and tragic irony in that, by trying to keep her little girl safe, the mother actually, placed her in harm's way.