Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The ultimate anxiety of the petitioners is based on their awareness that the condition of their lives offers no provision for a better future for their children. The petitioners know that the future already exists in the present and that the future must be nourished in the present so that their children’s existence will not be similarly distressed. Reviewing their own situation as a group and contemplating what the future holds for their children has brought the petitioners to discover the elaborate scheme perpetrated by the powerful. They realize and articulate in their prayer how daily events (the sun rising and setting, eating, indigestion) have become unexpected sites of stifling silence and unrelieved insecurity, a legacy of ruin for their children. As the ceremony continues, the petitioners recognize and echo the leader’s belief that they “were never meant to survive.” Through their collective ceremonial recitation, they are emerging from their silence, speaking their new understanding, dispelling the deception that has silenced them for so long, and restoring and empowering themselves.

In “A Litany for Survival” as in many of her other works, Lorde is concerned with the politics of marginalization. Knowing the devastating effects of being devalued and discarded, Lorde asks bold questions about who is chosen for such treatment and why. As an African American, feminist, and lesbian thinker, Lorde often experienced life from the position...

(The entire section is 468 words.)