Study Guide

the mother Life, Consciousness, and Existence

By Gwendolyn Brooks

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Life, Consciousness, and Existence

Okay, nerds, get ready to ponder the nature of life and existence, because "the mother" sure is doing a lot of pondering. The speaker is a mother who has terminated her pregnancies, and she spends much of the poem trying to figure out just how to describe her non-existent children. She wonders if she can categorize a fetus as being alive, or if she can categorize a fetus as dead. What counts as life? What counts as death? As we travel down this heady road with our speaker, we even have to wonder about her very categorization as a mother. Can she be defined as a mother if she's aborted her pregnancies? The poem raises, but doesn't necessarily answer, the tough questions about what constitutes a life. It encourages you to jump on in, and form your own opinion on the topic. Brace yourselves.

Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence

  1. Does the poem make a claim about when life begins? If so, what? If not, why not?
  2. Does the speaker think that her children have "died"? What parts of the poem support your ideas?
  3. The speaker refers to her aborted pregnancies as "children." What kind of argument lies behind this loaded word?

Chew on This

This poem argues that life begins at conception. Mystery: solved.

Not so fast there—this poem argues that life doesn't begin until birth.

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