Brooks’ Universal Issues and the Appeal to a Broad Audience
Brooks’ poetry, so rich in personal detail and authenticity, often does not have to justify the moral side of issues like other poems usually do. Her work, for me, seems less confessional and more like realistic humanity, a difficult feat to accomplish when so much of the material speaks of inner turmoil, lost loves, and wistful sadness. Honest in tone and filled with common and often disturbing themes, the poems were ones I was able to connect with. “The Mother” and “The Sundays of Satin Legs Smith” are two poems that speak to me in terms of universal longing and pain. I have never had an abortion, but I know several people who have. In fact, last year I had an 11th-grade student who was pregnant, and I told her that I would gladly adopt the baby. She said she would consider it, but she ended up having the abortion. For a couple weeks after she got back, I kept wondering what that child would have been like; but then, I had to force myself to put it out of my mind. “The Mother” brought back all the joys of having a child and all the disappointments of not having a second one. “The Sundays of Satin Legs Smith” reminds me of that sinking feeling when you realize that the man you are with is not who you thought he was. You still love him, which makes the pain of a failed relationship that much harder to accept. I think of a couple specific men I dated before I got married (thank God I did not marry them), and I wonder at the decisions of women – the willingness to overlook the bad things because they are desperate to have somebody – anybody to fill the void.
In “The Mother,” the speaker’s obvious pain and regret comes close to excusing her from the act of killing a child (for some readers it might exonerate her completely). In line one, the speaker confesses to a horrific action while simultaneously, with the pronoun you, imploring the reader to mentally relate to her experience. When the speaker remarks that, “Abortions will not let you forget,” she makes her abortion the readers’ abortion. Because of the personal pronoun “you,” readers must imagine themselves in the midst of one of the most painful decisions a woman can make. This simple choice of diction allows Brooks to comment on the universally-felt consequences of abortion: people never forget. The sentence structure in the first line also serves to take the blame off the speaker and transfer it to the action. By writing that “abortions will not let you forget” and making the actual abortion the subject of the first sentence, Brooks makes the action of abortion that which will not let mothers forget, not the actual decision to get an abortion (made by the mother) the primary cause of the pain. By distancing herself from the act, Brooks allows the speaker to reflect on the consequences of the abortion without addressing the moral issues of the decision.
With the usage of the 2nd person voice throughout the first stanza, Brooks continues to pull her readers into her (or the speaker’s) story, thus eliminating blame and creating a bond between reader and speaker. Using rich details to show readers what they will not experience because of an abortion, Brooks recounts several instances that typify the first year of a baby’s life: “You remember the children you got that you did not get, /The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair, / The singers and workers that never handled the air” (2-4). By stating that a mother who aborted a child did not “get” that child, Brooks creates a tone of one longing for a prize lost, as if the mother did not choose the abortion but rather was forced by someone else to make that decision. The speaker tells readers that they remember the child they did not get; as a result, the reader can picture facing the awful decision that the speaker and so many other woman have faced. The blame, then, dissipates into the possibility that all people must face difficult decisions in...
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