What is the tone of Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "the mother"?

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vangoghfan's profile pic

vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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The tone of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “the mother” is extremely complex. The tone of the opening line – “Abortions will not let you forget” – can be read as regretful and as offering a kind of warning or even (at first) as somewhat accusatory. The tone of line two is mainly paradoxical; the tone of line three is vivid and almost disturbingly graphic. In line four, the tone might be called literally imaginative, while in lines 5-6 the tone seems at first brutally honest and realistic and then affectionate and realistic.

In lines 7-10, as well as in many lines of this poem, the speaker expresses herself as a person who is fully familiar with all the small, subtle realities of parenting – a fact that makes her attitudes toward her abortions even more complex. The tone in these lines is often humorous and at the same time genuinely loving. In line 11 the tone sounds almost haunted; in lines 12-13 the tone seems melancholy, while in the next several ensuing lines the tone might be described as remorseful, apologetic, and even repentant. These lines show the speaker’s capacity to imagine the future even as she laments the past and also mourns for the potential futures that have been lost.

Line 20 seems harshly self-accusatory, but that tone is followed by the mixed, paradoxical, even oxymoronic feelings of line 21.  Then in lines 22-23 the tone once again becomes frankly self-judgmental. The tone of line 24 is literally fatalistic. The tones of lines 25-26 might sound self-defensive, but then immediately the tone of lines 27-28 sounds honest and somewhat desperate. The speaker sounds like a woman who wants to speak truth, even as she realizes that the truth of her situation is extremely complicated and cannot be easily or simply expressed.

In line 29, the tone sounds abruptly realistic, but that tone is juxtaposed with the tone of line 30, which is wistful and reflective. Finally, the tones of the closing lines can be described in various ways, including insistent, affectionate, kind, caring, demonstrative, nostalgic, sorrowful, and anxious for understanding and forgiveness:

Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you

In short, the tone of this poem is as complex as the subject with which it so memorably deals.










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tabia724's profile pic

tabia724 | Student, College Freshman | (Level 3) eNoter

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I read the poem again after you provided your answer and I now see the complexities and variations in the tone. Thanks so much!!!!