Study Guide

the mother Language and Communication

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Language and Communication

Sure, "the mother" is a poem about abortion, but it's also about the language that we use to talk about abortion. Abortion is a controversial political topic, so it's no wonder that the language that we use to discuss it is a hot topic too. Whether we categorize the abortion debates as pro-choice vs. pro-life, or as pro-abortion rights or anti-abortion rights, these distinctions matter. Our language and our political views are in a kind of a feedback loop: each affects the other. And nowhere is this more obvious than in "the mother," in which the speaker can't even find the right language to describe her own aborted pregnancies. Talk about a tough subject (or don't, since the language is so tricky). Abortion is both personal and political, and that makes the language around it even more charged.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. What is the effect of the poem's title? Why does it matter that the poem refers to the speaker as "the mother"? 
  2. Why do you think the speaker uses the word "children," and not, for example "fetuses"? What's the difference between the terms?
  3. Do you think that there's a political reason that the poem refers to the speaker's "children"? Is there a not-so-secret pro-life agenda in this poem? Why or why not?

Chew on This

By using the terms "mother" and "children," the poem suggests that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder. Eesh.

Yeah—good try and all that. Still, even though the poem uses the terms "mother" and "children," it is pro-choice. The poem claims that abortion is a right, even if it involves a kind of death.

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