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Gwendolyn Brooks' "The Mother"

Updated on July 13, 2018
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Gwendolyn Brooks



Gwendolyn Brooks' "The Mother" features a speaker who has undergone more than one abortion. She is brooding over the consequences of her actions.

The speaker opens her monologue by making a generalized statement about the memories and feelings of women who have aborted their babies.

This speaker then backs up her claims by offering her own experience as testimony.

Reading of Brooks' "The Mother"

First Movement: "Abortions will not let you forget"

The speaker states bluntly, "Abortions will not let you forget." She claims that the mother who has aborted will "remember the children" that she conceived but "did not get," that is, allow to be born.

The speaker then describes the bodies of the aborted fetuses as "damp small pulps with a little or with no hair," indicating that she has seen those bodies after they were removed from her uterus. She makes the melancholy remark that these children will never sing or work.

Second Movement: "You will never neglect or beat"

The speaker then seems to offer a rationalization that should comfort the mother who has aborted when she states, "You will never neglect or beat / Them, or silence or buy with a sweet."

And it is certainly true that the mother will never be able to abuse her aborted children. But then she deflates the rationalization by asserting that the mother also will never be able to comfort her aborted babies.

That mother will never see them suck their thumbs, and she will never be able to calm their fears of ghosts.

That mother who has killed her fetus will never know the joy of returning to her child "with gobbling mother-eye" after a brief period of separation.

Third Movement: "I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children"

The speaker now moves to her own specific experience—shifting from the universal "you" to the first person singular pronoun: "I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children."

This "mother" does not euphemize with terms such as "choice," "reproductive rights," or "mass of cells"; she uses the term "killed" and applies it to what was done to her "children."

This speaker's memory and her imagination combine to bring back those lost babies. She imagines suckling them with "the breasts they could never suck."

Fourth Movement: "I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized"

The speaker relates how she was not "deliberate" in her "deliberateness" of allowing their lives to be snuffed out; thus, she seeks to apologize to those whose futures she has stolen.

The speaker delineates some of the things that she has stolen from those aborted babies: "your births," "your names," "your marriages," "your aches," and "your deaths."

This speaker as failed mother suffers thinking of all that she has denied her progeny, but she tries to soothe her pain by realizing that even as she has denied them an ordinary physical existence, she has also denied them the trials, tribulations, and suffering with which such an existence is always fraught.

Fifth Movement: "Though why should I whine"

With utmost sorrow, the speaker frantically asks how all her whining can remove the "crime" that she realizes is only hers. She admits that they are dead but then equivocates, "Or rather, or instead, / You were never made." But then she contradicts that claim as "faulty."

They were, in fact, made; they did exist. Perhaps she can assuage her guilt by merely telling herself, "You were born, you had body, you died." But that will not work, because they never had the opportunity to "giggle[ ] or plan[ ] or cr[y]."

Sixth Movement: "Believe me, I loved you all"

The speaker finally settles on what she perceives as her only possible course for deliverance—a declaration of love for all of those dead babies.

This pathetic, would-be "mother" begs her aborted babies to "believe [her]" when she says, "I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you / All."

Life Sketch of Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks was born June 7, 1917, in Topeka, Kansas, to David and Keziah Brooks. Her family relocated to Chicago shortly after her birth. She attended three different high schools: Hyde Park, Wendell Phillips, and Englewood.

Brooks graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1936. In 1930, her first published poem, "Eventide," appeared in American Childhood Magazine, when she was only thirteen years old. She had the good fortune to meet James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes, both of whom encouraged her writing.

Brooks continued to study poetry and write. She married Henry Blakely in 1938 and gave birth to two children, Henry, Jr, in 1940 and Nora in 1951. Living on the Southside of Chicago, she engaged with the group of writers associated with Harriet Monroe's Poetry, the most prestigious magazine in American poetry.

Brooks' first volume of poems, A Street in Bronzeville, appeared in 1945, published by Harper and Row. Her second book, Annie Allen was awarded the Eunice Tiejens Prize, offered by the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry. In addition to poetry, Brooks wrote a novel titled Maud Martha in the early '50s, as well as her autobiography Report from Part One (1972) and Report from Part Two (1995).

Brooks has won numerous awards and fellowships including the Guggenheim and the Academy of American Poets. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950, becoming the first African American woman to win that prize.

Brooks began a teaching career in 1963, conducting poetry workshops at Chicago's Columbia College. She has also taught poetry writing at Northeastern Illinois University, Elmhurst College, Columbia University, and the University of Wisconsin.

At the age of 83, Gwendolyn Brooks succumbed to cancer on December 3, 2000. She died quietly at her home in Chicago, where she had resided on the Southside for most of her life. She is interred in Blue Island, Illinois, at Lincoln Cemetery.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


Submit a Comment

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    2 years ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you for your comment, Patty.

    This poem has a very tight focus: the grief of a woman who has murdered several of her unborn children. By euphemistically calling her deeds the "right" of choice, one not only glosses over her pain, but also throws the poem off focus.

    The woman in the poem does not offer any hope of a "second chance." She obviously had many "second chances" for she makes it clear that she has aborted more than one of her unborn babies.

    That she proclaims that she loved them all rings hollow. How could she have loved them and yet murdered them, making sure that she would never even get to know them? She is deluded as well as callous in that regard. Still, she garners our sympathy because she has so eloquently dramatized her sorrow.

    Perhaps the reader is left to wonder: does all this mean that she would not abort any further children she might conceive? But then that is really not the issue. The speaker has one purpose: to dramatize the suffering she has experienced by her so called "choices."

  • pattyfloren profile image

    Patty Florence 

    2 years ago from Illinois

    Yet even if you say its a pathetic character, she acknowledged what all the hurt and pain has to this right of choosing this path in life and what one goes through each and every day. Also, the belief that somehow there is a second chance of an existence, that not all is lost.

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile imageAUTHOR

    Linda Sue Grimes 

    2 years ago from U.S.A.

    Thank you, Patty, for the comment. Yes, Brooks has created a very pathetic character in this poem. And the light that the poem sheds on abortion needs to shine deep and wide throughout the culture . . .

  • pattyfloren profile image

    Patty Florence 

    2 years ago from Illinois

    No one has told it like you have. I sympathize with this women such that I myself can cry for her loss and the misunderstanding that has matured her existence.


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