‘The Woman Speaks to the Man Who has Employed her Son’ Lorna Goodison was born 1947 in Kingston, Jamaica. Her family was a large one comprising nine children. She attended St. Hughes High School and later, studied Art both in Jamaica and New York. Her first collection of poetry, ‘Tamarind Season’ was published in 1980. Several collection followed, as well as two prose fiction works. Her books have won many awards.
Goodison’s themes include motherhood and the female in society. Currently she divided her time between her Jamaican home and the university of Michigan where she is an associate Professor in the Department of English and the Centre for African American Studies.
A single mother tries to raise her son well but loses him to a man who apparently hires him as an assassin or a bodyguard and presents him with a submachine gun to conduct his duties. The mother grieves for her son and her lost hopes for him. She foresees his imminent death as a criminal and tries to prepare herself for this eventuality. At the same time she condemns the man who is deceiving the boy by passing as a benevolent father figure while using him to do his criminal business.
The poem focuses on the very real concerns that plague modern society, that is, the breakdown of the family and the recruitment of the youth for criminal activities. The plight of single mothers and the abdication (neglect) of parental responsibility by absentee fathers are highlighted as integral to this problem.
The poem pens with the woman’s pregnancy and the discomfort it caused her. The “sense of unease” foreshadows the worry he would cause her later on but at the time she carries him under her heart, symbol of her constant love for him. That three stanzas are devoted to her role in raising the child emphasizes the tremendous effort she made to raise him properly and to provide for him. This would explain her acute sense of loss and also her disbelief at how easily the boy is tempted to replace her with someone else.
The boy comes across as ungrateful and materialistic, yet he is not entirely to blame since it would appear that he is seeking a father figure to compensate for the one he never had. The boy’s actual father was totally unconcerned about his son, treating him with the same indifference with which he treated his other children. Fathers, it would appear from the poem, are ultimately responsible for the success or failure of their sons and have contributed significantly to the problem of male delinquency by their abandonment of their parental duties.
The mother, therefore, has had to raise the child alone. The poem says she raised him twice meaning that she not only brought him up but also cherished high ambitions for him to be a medical doctor or pilot or more realistically, an “earth healer” or herbal doctor. However her efforts to give her son a successful future are thwarted by the lure of organized crime with its promise of power and a sense of belonging.
The absent father figure is replaced by the boss who assumes his role in a corrupted way, giving the boy ‘a whole submachine gun’ all for himself as a father would bestow a present upon his son. The boy is deceived by this man’s apparent show of generosity, telling his mother that he is ‘like a father to him’, unable to see that he is being used and would eventually be discarded.
The mother’s distress at the loss of her son to the criminal element and her anger at the man who lured him away are poignantly depicted in the images of her remonstrating with her son about his employer and of her praying and weeping for him to come to his senses. As a mother praying for her son, she joins the company of those mothers in Biblical times, who also lost their sons to criminal behavior.
The poem concludes on a note of resignation as the mother prepares herself for the fate she knows is impending for her son. The closing word, Absalom, summarizes the...
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