What is the theme of the poem "Night of the Scorpion" by Nissim Ezekiel?

The key theme of "Night of the Scorpion" is community, as demonstrated through the selfless dedication of the hordes of villagers who spend their time praying over the woman who has been stung by a scorpion. Although not the afflicted woman's direct family, they nevertheless spend all night in a protective circle trying to heal her ills.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are several themes at play in this poem by Nissim Ezekiel . The poem is about the night when the speaker's mother was stung by a scorpion. The scorpion itself, however, is largely absent in the poem; the poem is, instead, about the efforts of the peasants, the family's...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

There are several themes at play in this poem by Nissim Ezekiel. The poem is about the night when the speaker's mother was stung by a scorpion. The scorpion itself, however, is largely absent in the poem; the poem is, instead, about the efforts of the peasants, the family's neighbors, who come "like swarms of flies" to try and prevent the speaker's mother from being too affected by the scorpion's sting.

The family is not left to suffer the sting alone. On the contrary, the neighbors put themselves to great effort to search for the scorpion, determined to kill him so that the poison in the mother's blood will not take root. In their efforts to protect this woman, who is not a member of their direct family, they invoke their superstitions; they form a protective circle around her and chant, and the number of people who arrive at the house seems to have been considerable. The speaker remembers it as "more candles, more lanterns, more neighbors," as if the would-be helpers never ceased to arrive. The theme highlighted here, then, is that of community and of selflessly caring about people other than ourselves. When, at the end of the poem, the sting disappears from the mother's toe, it isn't clear whether the neighbors' superstitions have contributed, but it is clear that the family feels loved and protected by the community.

Another theme, picked out at the end of the poem, is that of a mother's love. Although we know that the mother in the poem has suffered greatly from the sting, twisting "through and through" on her mat while the people prayed over her, her only thought is to be glad that her children were spared. She would rather suffer this pain herself than have it inflicted on her children.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The theme of “The Night of the Scorpion” could be a number of things. The other educators' posts offer different possibilities, and I can offer yet another. Since a theme is the central message of a work, and messages are dependent not only on the sender but also on the receiver, it is natural for different readers to interpret works differently.

Most of the poem is concerned with the efforts of the peasants and the father to use superstitious means to save the speaker's mother from “the Evil One,” namely the effect of the scorpion's poison. The speaker doesn't seem to have much respect for the townspeople or their methods, but he does report that they sit with her, offering hopeful words and searching for the scorpion. The father, normally rational, also resorts to superstition.

At the end of the poem, the mother suddenly recovers. The poet doesn't offer any explanation. Did the superstitious rites have anything to do with it? We don't know.

What we do know is that the townspeople showed up in her time of need, and she ended up recovering. I think the poet is emphasizing the compassion that the people of this community feel for each other. How many people would show up at our house if we were sick? Probably a few family members, but not the whole town. Even if their methods were useless, even if they were annoying “flies,” they still cared enough to show up. The father was frantically trying anything he could to help, even if it meant going against his more modern nature. The poet simply finishes with the mother's words,

Thank God the scorpion picked on me
And spared my children.

After twenty hours of suffering, the mother's thoughts are on her children.

This poem depicts a tremendous amount of compassion. Perhaps that helped the mother pull through.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I assume that you are talking about the poem “Night of the Scorpion” by Nissim Ezekiel. I have attached a thorough analysis of various themes to this poem, as given by other eNotes educators in a similar question.

True to its title, the poem focuses on a night, according to the persona’s recollections, when the persona’s mother is bitten by a scorpion. She undergoes about twenty hours of pain, “twisting through and through, groaning on a mat,” before relief.

I think that one of the themes of this poem is a portrayal of the persona’s culture. Many lines in the poem are dedicated to the villagers’ reaction to the scorpion bite, including superstitions associated with this event. We observe that the villagers are compassionate. They swarm the persona’s house on the night of the misfortune, probably to assist the bitten woman in every way they can. They “buzz the name of God a hundred times,” hoping that this will paralyze the scorpion. They believe that every movement made by the scorpion is followed by a similar movement of its poison in the woman’s blood. Thus, they look for the scorpion in order to prevent its movement. They chant prayers; “may he sit still,” they say. They make incantations for the bitten woman, hoping or knowing that these would alleviate her suffering. The persona’s father, being more rational than the rest, tries all the practical methods he can use to treat the scorpion bite. He tries different herbs and powders. The holy man also performs various rituals. Through all this, we can see the communal spirit in the village and the compassion the villagers have for each other.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on