In stanzas 2 and 4 of "The Ballad of Birmingham," how are quotation and repetition employed to create tension?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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If we look at stanzas 2 and 4, we can see how repetition and quotation are employed with tremendous irony to reinforce the cruelty of what happened in Birmingham. Let us note what is said in these two stanzas, being aware that they report a two-way conversation between a child (who speaks in stanzas 1 and 3) and then its mother, who speaks in stanzas 2 and 4. After asking if she can march in the Freedom March, the mother responds in the negative:

No, baby, no, you may not go, 
For the dogs are fierce and wild, 
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails 
Aren't good for a little child.

The fears of the mother are clear and obvious. The way that people involved in such Freedom Marches had been beaten and punished is well documented. The reference to "dogs," "clubs and hoses, guns and jails" being not "good" for a little child is a clear understatement. When the child responds that she will not be alone and that other children will be with her, engaged in the task of "making our country free," the mother again replies with a negative, but this time offers a different idea:

No, baby, no, you may not go,                                    
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children's choir.

The way that the mother repeats the exact same words to tell her child that she can't go on the March because of the fear of what could happen, and then goes on to suggest a "safer" location which turns out to be more deadly is incredibly ironic. In wanting to save and protect her child, the mother makes a suggestion that will actually result in her death. Given the fact that we as readers of this poem know what happened in Birmingham, this raises the tension significantly.

ms-einstein eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In stanzas 1 and 3, the speaker is the daughter, while in the other two stanzas, the speaker is the mother. The quotations and repetition makes the ballad sound like any conversation between mother and child where the child wants one thing and the mother insists on another. Its ordinary tone underscores the horrifying events that the ballad describes: the girl listens to her mother and avoids the dangerous protests in Birmingham streets over segregation only to die in the church bombing. These ballads refers to historic events that happened in Birmingham in 1963.

bookreaderspeaking | Student

Stanzas 1 and 3 - The daughter is speaking

Stanzas 2 and 4-The mother is speaking


The mother's quoted dialogue builds tention through  vivid descriptions of violence. For example, the mother responsa with

"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails"

Later the mother says,

"No, baby, no, you may not go,                                               
For I fear those guns will fire."

Each of these lines paints a picture of the growing tention in the Birmingham streets.

The mother's repitition of  "No, baby, no, you may not go" serve to reitterate the mother's fear for the safety of her child.