The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The mother” is a short poem in free verse, written mostly in the first person. In her narrator, Gwendolyn Brooks adopts the persona of an impoverished mother. In the tradition of the lyric, this narrator addresses the reader directly and personally to convey her feelings. The poem contains thirty-five lines, which are separated into three stanzas. The title, “the mother,” is ironic, for this mother is a woman who has lost her children because of very difficult and painful decisions—decisions that she believes were for the best.

Brooks’s “the mother” implicitly explores the impact of abject poverty on the life of a female character. The poem depicts the struggles and regrets of a poor woman who has had many abortions. The mother has continuing anxiety and anguish because of her difficult decisions. The very first line of the first stanza, “Abortions will not let you forget,” immediately draws attention to the title, “the mother,” and to the importance of the word “love”—what it has meant to the narrator to love her children or, rather, the children she might have had.

The narrator of the poem, the mother of the lost children, ultimately accepts responsibility for her acts, although she seems to alternate between evading and admitting that responsibility. Throughout the poem, the narrator refers to her decisions with concrete adverbs and adjectives.

The brief final stanza is climactic. The narrator confronts her familiarity with her lost children and, despite her decision to abort them, proclaims her love for them. The final line, consisting of only one word, “All,” is particularly effective in that it stands in stark contrast to the apparent harshness of both her decision and her own attitude toward that decision.

The city is an important and recurring symbol in Brooks’s work. She has created a series of portraits of women inhabiting Bronzeville, a setting for many of her poems, which may be taken symbolically as the African American community. In a way similar to that of Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks’s work expresses the tragic and dehumanizing aspects of the ghetto experience. Brooks also ventures deep beneath the surface of the ghetto experience to uncover areas of a poor person’s life that frequently go unnoticed and should not necessarily be considered terrible or ugly.