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

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

Further Reading:
Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.

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