Study Guide

The Whipping Memory and the Past

By Robert Hayden

Memory and the Past

"The Whipping" isn't just about violence and abuse. No, no. It is also about how violent memories of the past still find their way into the present, about how they have a profound effect on our lives. The woman is a perfect example. She whips and whips and whips that poor little boy because she's haunted by her past, a past so violent that the only way she knows how to handle it is by taking her anger out on an innocent boy. And come to think of it, in the future, this boy's past will be just like the woman's (violent). He may also find himself haunted by memories of it. Something tells us that this woman might need a little therapy. Dr. Freud, are you in?

Questions About Memory and the Past

  1. Why is the woman still haunted by her past?
  2. What do you think the boy's memories of the whipping will be like later in life? Will he too suffer from his own "lifelong hidings"?
  3. What about the speaker's past? Doesn't it resemble the boy's present (violent, painful, scary)?
  4. Does the speaker seem controlled or dominated by his past in the same way as the woman? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Forget about the past? Good luck. A whole lot of what we do—the things we say, how we act, etc.—has to do with our memories and our past.

Even though the past is supposed to be "dead and gone," this poem shows that it is sometimes more like a ghost that keeps coming back and finding ways to affect the present. In that way it's tough to tell them apart.

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