Thoughts on Brooks’ two mothers

September 23, 2010

I wanted to do a brief reading of parts of Brooks’ poem “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon,” focusing on the relationship between the two mothers and the persistence of red throughout the work. I think this is an absolutely brilliant poem; Brooks takes the perspective of the white wife ( instead of the black mother, a victim that I thought might draw more sympathy from a reader) and uses the form of the traditional ballad with a hero, a damsel in distress, and a “dark” villain, and then, deconstructs this perspective completely and systematically throughout the poem.

In the middle of the fifth stanza, on the top of page 77, Brooks writes (about the white mother), “So much had happened, she could now remember now what that foe had done/Against her, or if anything had been done.” Up until this point Brooks had gone through the ballad structure and subverted it; she says the supposed dark villain is really a “blackish child” and that the supposed white knight “rushing/With his heavy companion to hack down (unhorsed)/That little foe.” Now that we see she can’t even remember how she was wronged by the dark “little foe”, we are better able to envision the guilt that must be flowing through her every thought–primarily symbolized through the color red reappearing.

It is almost as if this guilt is inherited, that the red flows through her kids; at one point the husband slaps her child and “Surely her Baby’s cheek/Had disappeared, and in its place, surely/Hung a heaviness, a lengthening red, a red that had no end.” And later the red comes oozing from her husband’s hands and mouth. And a hatred for him grows from her guilt.

But I couldn’t really find much mention of Emmit Till’s mother until “The Last Quatrain.” In class, Professor Scanlon suggested that we consider the idea of a common motherhood connection between the women, and, the degree to which this connection transcends racial boundaries. From what I read, the redness is present in the The Last quatrain as well, but it is more attributed to the mother’s environment than to her immediate emotions and psychological state; however, maybe the red –and perhaps this word suggests both guilt and grief– has spread so much that it completely envelops her surroundings. I think Brooks did want to forge some kind of connection between the two mothers, especially with the inclusion of the red theme in the last quatrain; but I’m not sure to what affect their feelings of grief and guilt as mothers really transcend racial boundaries. I couldn’t really find any direct evidence to support that argument. Did anyone else find anything in the text that supported or maybe even refuted this idea?

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