The Woman Speaks to the Man Who Has Employed Her Son Summary: The persona in this poem is telling the story of a mother who loved her son. The mother became aware of the child’s presence when she experienced morning sickness. She placed all her hopes in the child and raised him as a single parent because his father was indifferent to the child’s existence. The mother had set no barriers on what the child could become, but he grows up to work for some criminal who drags him into a war and gives him a firearm.
The son tells his mother that his employer is like a father to him, but the mother wonders at the father figure who purposefully endangers his child. She prepares for her son’s death by going downtown to buy funeral apparel. The mother feels powerless, so she prays for her child and says protective psalms for him. On the other hand, she reads psalms of retribution for the employer and weeps for her son. Her situation does not look good and is likened to a partner system in which she draws both the first and the last hand. Genre: Narrative
Structure:The poem is written in Free Verse and consists of six unrhymed octets. It follows no specific meter. Themes: Categories: Death, Love, Survival, Dreams, Childhood Experiences, Religion * Love: a mother’s love for her son and her hope that he succeeds in life. * Importance of Father Figures – the poem explores the importance of father figures in the upbringing of children. Mothers cannot father sons; the role is tailored for men. This is shown when the son finds a man who seems to ‘value’ him. Being appreciated by a woman is not the same for a boy as being respected by a man.
Gaining respect from a masculine figure imbues a sense of manliness into a boy. Hence the son is vulnerable to being fooled and used by a man who pretends to care for him, and this is the situation with many young gang members today. * Power of Prayer: the poem shows the woman’s trust in God and her belief in prayer. Caribbean culture is very evident in this poem as we people believe in the efficacy of the psalms. Take the 23rd psalm for example. Christians use prayer as a way of communicating their concerns and worries to God. Mood:The mood of the poem though not happy, starts off as buoyant and optimistic.
It seemed as though it was going to be a success story whereby a single mother invested all her love and attention to a boy who would go onto achieve great things. The lines “set no ceiling on what he could be” brings the reader to think of this. This mood doesn’t last though as it soon deteriorates into disappointment and grief when the mother learns that her son has become a criminal. The mood of hopelessness soon becomes evident when the mother purchases funeral wearand is underscored by a lurking sense of sadness and tragic acceptance. The woman accepts that her son’s way of living and earning money will get him killed.
The phrase “bloody salary” is testament to this. The mood of the poem is also reflective. The persona is thinking about a mother’s response to her son’s life choices. Tone:The tone of the poem is conversational. It is as if the narrator is conversing with the reader. This tone is quite effective since the poem is a narrative and is telling a story. Towards the end the tone begins to sound more pessimistic and ishighlighted by the mother’s hopelessness for her son’s survival and her acceptance that his death is imminent. Techniques: The poet uses rhetorical apostrophe to tell the reader the story of the mother and son.
The persona is speaking to the boy’s ‘employer’ telling him of the grief which he brought to mother by endangering her son. It is as if the persona wants the ‘employer’ to feel the hurt, pain and disappointment of the mother and to tell him how much the mother resents him. This helps convey the mother’s feelings in a more intense manner. Also even though the persona uses ‘you’ to address the employer, sometimes it seems to the reader as if the persona is addressing them. This helps the reader to feel the mother’s pain, anger and shame and almost forces the reader to evoke sympathy for the mother. Devices: . Simile: * Lines 9-10: “She carried him like the poor carry hope” Poor people have no wealth and usually no chance of breaking through poverty. Hope for life to improve is all they have. Hence the writer compares to the mother to poor people carrying hope in the sense that she carried the boy in her womb and took care of him like he was the only thing she had. She invested all her faith, love and attention into him hoping that he would become successful in life one day. * Line 25: “He says you are like a father to him” The son compares the ‘employer’ to a father, stating that the employer values him.
The son is fooled in thinking that the criminal employer cares him when actually the man just want to use the boy as one his of minions in a war. The son is brainwashed so badly that he believes the man gave him the gun because he valued him. 2. Sarcasm: The persona appears to praise the child’s father by referring to him as ‘fair-minded’. She is, however, chastising him for not only ignoring his son, but all of his other children. She calls him fair, but what she really means is that he is unjust. 3. Irony: The son innocently tells his mother that his employer values him so much that hegave him a whole submachine gun for himself.
The irony in this situation is that if you really care about someone, you do NOT give them a gun due to the negative results that are bound to occur. 4. Allusion (Biblical): * Lines 26 – 28: This line alludes to a particular verse in the Christian Bible, Luke 11 vs 11 which says “Which of you fathers, if your son asks got a fish, will give him a snake instead? ” The verse questions what the actions of a good father should be. * Lines 37- 38: Psalms is a particular chapter in the Christian Bible. In this chapter there are verses for protection, the mother uses those for her son, as well as verses for retribution and rebuking.
It is implied that the mother chooses those for the employer. * Lines 41 – 45: In the Christian Bible, Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus. Imagine how Judas’ mother must have felt – the pain, the shame, the disappointment at her son’s deed! So would the mother of the thief who was crucified along with Jesus. The mother in our poem claims similar feelings. * Line 49: Absalom is the son of David, in the Christian Bible. Absalom betrayed his father, which implies that the mother feels betrayed by her son because she has placed all her hopes in him and he throws it all away.
Symbolism:Goodison uses the concept of a partnership to symbolize mothers’ hopes for their sons. A partnership is an informal saving scheme set up with a specific number of individuals for the duration of a specific time span. Each person agrees to pay a designated figure on a monthly basis. The mother invests her everything into her son. Her attention, money, faith, hopes etc. The ‘draws’ are decided, meaning who gets the money first, second, third etc, on a monthly basis. The banker then collects the money and gives the monthly pool to the person who is to receive their ‘draw’.
Therefore, a ‘partnership’ is dependent upon the honesty of the banker, who could abscond with the money, as well as the honesty of the members of the savings scheme, who could decide NOT to pay after they have received their draw. The persona speaks of being in a ‘partner’ with Judas’ mother and the mother of the thief on the left-hand side of the cross, acknowledging that these three mothers have lost all that they had invested in their sons. For her, it is worst than for the other women, for she had invested her all. She had given her son everything she had as she was playing the roles of both mother and father.
The mother has the advantage of first draw as mother, she loses that advantage because she also has the role of father. Mothers cannot father sons. The fact that the son has found a father figure proves this to be true. Therefore, she has the last draw, which carries with it the disadvantage of not receiving a full ‘draw’. The longer one waits for a draw is the most likely that dishonesty will come into play on the part of the participants. These mothers invested into their sons but did not receive anything in return worthy of their investments.