Upon reading Robert Hayden’s 1970 poem, “The Whipping” (1075), one may find themselves feeling very disturbed. The title is not subtle in hiding the fact that the plot of the poem is of a mother beating her son. The tone of the poem is very violent, and filled with a lot of anger. The boy’s character immediately demands sympathy from the reader and just as instantaneously, the mother is hated by the reader. From his first stanza, to his sixth, Hayden utilizes an arsenal of words, symbols, and images to create a scene that is intense and emotional to the reader.
Hayden introduces his poem with the first stanza, which begins with “The old woman across the way/ is whipping the boy again” (1-2). These lines create a setting, where the characters are introduced and the action that the title stated is in progress. One thing that the reader does sense is that this whipping is not unusual. It is happening again and whoever the narrator is, he is not surprised or alarmed that this is happening. The last two lines of the stanza describe the mother very well. She is “shouting to the neighborhood/ her goodness and his wrongs” (3-4). Its as if she feels that by yelling her son’s faults and her goodness, she is trying to justify her own wrongfulness of beating her son. She chose to shout, so that everyone would hear, almost as if she was confessing her sins. She seems to be making a show, a production out of this beating. She is trying to humiliate her son even more by beating him outside, instead of inside the house. A simple, four- lined introduction creates a perfect image of the event that is unfolding.
In stanza two, the setting and the mother’s physical appearance is revealed in further detail. The setting is in front of the house in a garden of some sort, full of lush plants, greenery, and bright flowers. In contrast, the boy is being viciously thrown and beaten into this delicate foliage....
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