Study Guide

The Whipping The Home

By Robert Hayden

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.

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