Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469
In “Hanging Fire” Lorde’s focus is on several issues that confront the teenager within the poem and affect teenagers in the extended world: the preoccupation with death, the problem of living in a sexist society, and the fear of isolation within the home. Throughout the entire poem the teenager is preoccupied with death and dying. In the first stanza she frets, “what if I die/ before morning.” In the second stanza she worries, “suppose I die before graduation.” In the final stanza she is troubled: “will I live long enough/ to grow up.” Lorde makes the reader aware of the fact that, like the persona within the poem, some teenagers are preoccupied with thoughts of death.
As a black feminist Lorde believed that she must combat sexism at all levels and at all times, and she does so in this poem. The fact that the young girl in the poem has not become a part of the “Math Team” despite the fact that her grades were higher than those of the male who was selected, is an indictment of the sexist attitudes of society in general and the school system in particular. Society teaches that an individual, male or female, should be evaluated on his or her merit. Yet the reality is that sexism exists. Lorde suggests that while such behavior is painful for adults, it is extremely traumatic to the young. What seems to be worse than the sexist treatment, however, is the fact that no one deplores the act or is concerned about the effects it might have on the girl. The sexist behavior is condoned as though the boy should be preferred simply because he is male, while the girl is summarily dismissed because she is female. Lorde’s philosophy is that all people should protest against such sexist attitudes, but she believes that mothers need to protect their children from such sexism.
Finally, there is the problem of isolation and loneliness. The speaker indicates that her social skills are inadequate, for she clearly states that she needs to learn how to dance “in time for the next party.” She indicates also that she is not sure of her grooming techniques because her knees are always ashy, and her major social contact seems to be the immature, thumb-sucking boy.
Despite these external inadequacies and isolation, what seems to cause the teenager the greatest anxiety is the isolation that occurs within her home. While the teenager battles the fears of dying, the problems of a love affair, and the pain of discrimination, she realizes that the one person on whom she should rely, the one who should nurture, defend, and protect her, her mother, is “in the bedroom/ with the door closed.” The closed door is a symbol of total isolation and loneliness for the teenager.