Study Guide

The Whipping Violence

By Robert Hayden

Violence

"The Whipping" is a very violent poem—it doesn't take a famous critic to pick up on that. Plot-wise, it's about a woman who is whipping a little boy yet again, and who won't let him get away. She chases him around, gets a hold of him, and whips him so hard with a stick that the stick itself breaks. The poem never really tells us why the woman is so violent, but the speaker implies that the woman herself was abused and is now taking her anger out on the next generation. In many ways the, this poem isn't about just random acts of violence. It is about the cycle of abuse, how abuse breeds more abuse.

Questions About Violence

  1. What is the significance of the poem's title? Why a poem about whipping rather than, say, punching?
  2. This is kind of a poem about child abuse. How accurately and effectively does it describe abuse and the psychology behind it?
  3. Let's suppose this is a true story. Do you think the boy will end up becoming violent too? Why or why not?
  4. How does the woman feel about her violent behavior? Do we have any way of knowing?

Chew on This

Violence doesn't solve anything. It just breeds more violence which, in turn, breeds still more violence, which… you get the picture.

It is a sad fact that many victims of violence are just like the little boy in the poem: innocent victims of somebody else's temper and psychological issues.

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