Study Guide

The Whipping Quotes

  • Violence

    The old woman across the way
    is whipping the boy again (1-2)

    The key word in these lines is "again." The woman is a clearly a, ahem, repeat offender. In addition, "again" is a word that describes something that has happened before, and by the end of this poem we learn that this woman has a long history with violence.

    and shouting to the neighborhood
    her goodness and his wrongs. (3-4)

    While it seems at first that the woman is merely punishing the boy for who-knows-what (stealing cookies again?), the fact that she is obsessed with telling the whole world about her "goodness" makes us think there might be a deeper motive for her violence.

    She strikes and strikes the shrilly circling
    boy till the stick breaks
    in her hand. (9-11)

    These lines are really violent. Not only does the stick break, and the woman "strikes and strikes." The sounds of violence are everywhere. That S sound in "strikes" pops up several times—"strikes," "shrilly," "stick."

    My head gripped in bony vise
    of knees, the writhing struggle
    to wrench free, the blows, the fear
    worse than blows that hateful (13-16)

    This is hands-down the most vivid depiction of violence in the entire poem. "Gripped," "vise," "writhing struggle," "blows," and "blows"—it's as if the rhetoric is laid on pretty thick to make sure we get the message that this is a very, very traumatic memory.

    Words could bring, the face that I
    no longer knew or loved (17-18)

    Violence makes monsters out of people we thought we knew, and people we used to love. That is what is happens here, and this may be why the relationship between the woman and the boy isn't described in any detail. Violence destroys relationships.

    avenged in part for lifelong hidings
    she has had to bear. (23-24)

    "The Whipping" is a poem about violence and about violence as a way of getting revenge. And strangely, it seems to work. The woman is mad about things she's hidden, or about having to hide them, so she beats the boy really bad and is "avenged in part." Okay, hold on—is she actually avenged, or does she just think she is? Hmm.

  • The Home

    The old woman across the way
    is whipping the boy again (1-2)

    The woman isn't reading the boy a bedtime story, or making him dinner, or helping him with his homework. Nope, she's whipping him—and not for the first time either. Some home, right?

    Wildly he crashes through elephant ears,
    pleads in dusty zinnias,
    while she in spite of crippling fat
    pursues and corners him. (5-8)

    This is a scene that would be perfectly at home on one of those nature shows: a smaller, weaker person crashing through bushes and plants while a larger, voracious predator chases him. And this is supposed to be a home? It's more like an uncivilized jungle.

    She strikes and strikes the shrilly circling
    boy till the stick breaks
    in her hand. (9-11)

    The whole home-as-jungle theme appears in these lines as well. The image of the boy as a "shrilly circling" creature, for example, makes him seem like a whimpering fawn or desperate insect attempting to escape the claws of a more powerful predator.

    My head gripped in bony vise
    of knees, the writhing struggle
    to wrench free, the blows, the fear
    worse than blows that hateful (13-16)

    Broken homes are an epidemic in this poem. This memory is either the woman's, or the speaker's, but either way the home described is just as bad as the one where the whipping is taking place. It is a home fully of control and violence. Instead of love and tenderness, there is an awful struggle and lots and lots of "blows."

    the face that I
    no longer knew or loved (17-18)

    The woman, or the speaker, no longer recognizes the face of what must be a parent (the word "love" suggests that this is the case). A child so alienated from the parent that recognition and love are no longer possible? That is the complete opposite of anything we could call a home. That's for sure.

  • Memory and the Past

    The old woman across the way
    is whipping the boy again (1-2)

    That woman is whipping the boy again. This is our first indication that this is happened before and the poem's first mention of the idea that the past repeats itself.

    His tears are rainy weather
    to woundlike memories: (11-12)

    The past really can hurt sometimes. Here, somebody's memories (probably the woman's, but they could also be the speaker's) are like "wounds." Apparently, they haven't healed yet either.

    My head gripped in bony vise
    of knees, the writhing struggle
    to wrench free, the blows, the fear
    worse than blows that hateful (13-16)

    These lines more than anything else show how painful memories come roaring out of the darkness of the unconsciousness. The suddenness with which this little stream of consciousness interlude shows up imitates the suddenness with which painful memories pop into our heads out of nowhere, sometimes.

    And the woman leans muttering against
    a tree, exhausted, purged—
    avenged in part for lifelong hidings
    she has had to bear. (23-24)

    The woman has had to hide her traumatic past, and it has made her life absolutely miserable. That's why she's so violent—she's angry about the past, tired of carrying that burden around, and thinks she can "purge" herself of that pain by whipping some poor kid.