Study Guide

the mother Guilt and Blame

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Guilt and Blame

There's no doubt about it: the speaker of "the mother" feels a boatload of guilt about her abortions. She has elaborate fantasies about her children that never were, and she even refers to her abortions as a "crime." But did she cause deliberate pain? Is she guilty of murder? Should she be punished? These are unanswerable questions, and in a way they're the wrong ones to be asking. The poem asks us not to judge and blame the speaker, but to imagine ourselves in her shoes. Brooks's portrait of "the mother" is not a condemnation. It's more of an exploration of the feelings of guilt and blame than a judgment.

Questions About Guilt and Blame

  1. Do you think that the poem judges or criticizes the speaker? Or it is a neutral portrait? What parts of the poem support your answer? 
  2. What is the importance of "deliberateness" to the abortion discussion? Why does the speaker bring it up? 
  3. Are there any points in the poem where the speaker does not seem to feel guilty? If so, where? If not, why not? 
  4. Does the poem present any alternative to abortion? If so, what?

Chew on This

The speaker's guilt is a sign that she made a mistake in having an abortion—she's guilty as charged.

The speaker's guilt is a natural response to having an abortion. The poem is not using it to condemn the speaker (so back up there, Sir-Madam Condemns-a-Lot).

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