Nikki Giovanni

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What is the theme of the poem “Mothers” by Nikki Giovanni?

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One theme central to this poem is the complex relationship that exists between mothers and daughters.

The speaker opens the poem with a memory of the "last time" she visited her mother, indicating that the two do not spend much time together. Upon their reunion, they exchange "pleasantries" or superficial conversation. Their comments are kept light and casual, indicating that they are both trying to avoid conflict. The two sit together in silence, and this is comforting to them. They read distinctly "separate" books, which seems to further the theme that the two are living quite separate lives. They are quiet, separate, and thus comfortable.

The speaker then remembers waking up in the night as a child and finding her mother in the dark, the memory blended with the way the two contrast each other. While the speaker considers herself a "night person," her mother is bathed in moonlight. The symbolic representation of light and dark playing out in this scene shows that even as a child, the speaker saw herself in a basic opposition to her mother. Yet she recalls that she must have found her mother "beautiful" in that moment.

In spite of their differences, the speaker also knows that they do share a love of literature and poetry, and she has passed this down to her own son as well. Therefore, her mother's legacy of poetry has both influenced the speaker (presumably the poet speaking as herself) and has also influenced her own motherhood journey.

The relationship that exists between mothers and daughters can be both light and dark, both silent and poetic. Yet this pair shows that continuing to intentionally invest in this complex relationship is worthwhile.

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