An Explication of Gwendolyn Brooks’s The Mother

Published 20 Sep 2017

Abortion has always been morally wrong and in many parts of the world, considered illegal. However, like all issues on morality, there are instances when the bar that separates right and wrong cannot be ascertained with absoluteness. In Gwendolyn Brooks’s The Mother, a mother speaks about her abortions in a reflective manner which attempts to elicit sympathy upon the reader to her argument that she committed the abortions not out of spite but for love of her children.

The first word of the poem, “Abortions” (1), glares from the text of the poem as it is looks unusual and out of place in a poem with the title, The Mother. The writer immediately establishes the fact that this mother is not going to talk about her pride and joy with her children or even the hardships and sacrifices of raising them, like most poems about motherhood do. In the succeeding lines of the first stanza, the persona talks about the things that her unborn child would never experience. She uses the second voice “you” to make the effect less personal and possibly because she would like to convince herself and the reader to understand the reasons behind an act that society disapproves of but which she did many times. By aborting her children, she says, she has spared them from “neglect or beat(ing)” (5), and the mother will not be hassled by the demands of rearing a child, responsibilities that circumstances in her life may not have allowed her to fulfill.

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On the other hand, she seems to be struggling with her conscience for her deeds in the past when she admits to hearing “in the voices of the wind, the voices of my dim killed children”(11). Something inside her, after all, bothers her because what she did might have been wrong. It must have been wrong for her, she says, to “seize you luck/And your lives…stole your births and your names/ Your straight baby tears and your games,/

Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches,/ and your deaths, (13-21). She wonders here that, perhaps, those unborn children may find, if they were allowed to allows, these things that are characteristics of living to be worthwhile experiences. She consoles herself, however, by declaring that “in my deliberateness, I was not deliberate” (23). It is not the joys of life that she deliberately withdrew from her children by aborting them, but its sorrows.

In the final lines, the mother keeps on repeating her declarations of love for her unborn children as she also continues to speak of her uncertainty as to the rightness of what she did. There is a tone of vacillation when she asks, “why should I whine…the crime was other than mine” (24-25) yet posits that “anyhow you are dead” (26)—meaning, it does not matter anyhow and should not matter in any way now.

Finally, she believes that she has made the right decision:
Believe me, I loved you all.
Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
All. (33-35)

Her sense of guilt continues to show with the repetitions, but it is guilt more brought about probably by what she knows would be society’s judgment on her action rather than personal guilt. She has convinced herself that she did those abortions out of love and she did the right thing and she pleas for the reader’s sympathy. At the end of the poem, she is not a woman who has killed her children while they were in her womb, but a mother like other mothers, who wanted to protect her children from the hardships of life and the world; only that, her solution to achieve this end was by simply disallowing them to live.


  • Barnet, Sylvan, William E. Burto and William E. Cain. A Little Literature. Longman Publishing.
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