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CSEC English B: The Woman Speaks to the Man who has Employed her Son by Lorna Goodison Analysis

Updated: May 28, 2021





The Woman Speaks to the Man who has Employed her Son

Lorna Goodison

Her son was first made known to her as a sense of unease, a need to cry for little reasons and a metallic tide rising in her mouth each morning. Such signs made her know That she was not alone in her body. She carried him full term tight up under her heart. She carried him like the poor carry hope, hope you get a break or a visa, hope one child go through and remember you. He had no father. The man she made him with had more like him, he was fair-minded he treated all his children with equal and unbiased indifference. She raise him twice, once as mother Then as father, set no ceiling On what he could be doctor, earth healer, pilot take wings. But now he tells her he is working for you, that you value him so much you give him one whole submachine gun for him alone. He says you are like a father to him she is wondering what kind of father would give a son hot and exploding death, when he asks him for bread. She went downtown and bought three and one-third yards of black cloth and a deep crowned and veiled hat for the day he draw his bloody salary. She has no power over you and this at the level of earth, what she has are prayers and a mother’s tears and at knee city she uses them. She says psalms for him she reads psalms for you she weeps for his soul her eyewater covers you. She is throwing a partner with Judas Iscariot’s mother the thief on the left-hand side of the cross, his mother is the banker, her draw though is first and last for she still throwing two hands as mother and father. She is prepared, she is done. Absalom.









Summary

In this poem, the persona seems to be addressing a man who has taken a woman's son into a life of crime and gun violence. The history of the woman's relationship with her son is recounted and the love she felt for him even before his birth. She first knew she was pregnant due to morning sickness- showing that this pregnancy was not necessarily planned. This son had no father, so the mother played both roles in his upbringing. She saw his potential as endless, he could become anything. However, she is the told that he has been employed by a man who 'values' him so much that he gives him his own submachine gun. The son for whom she had great hope for had now been inducted into a life of crime that would ultimately cut his life short. She prepares for the funeral of her son, which she believes will happen sooner rather than later because of what he has become involved in. She compares this feeling of betrayal and misfortune to 'throwing a partner' (or sou sou agreement) with notably untrustworthy people and drawing the first and last hand.


"Her son was first made known to her as a sense of unease, a need to cry for little reasons and a metallic tide rising in her mouth each morning."

This gives some sort of exposition for the life of the woman. It says that 'her son was first made known to her' through morning sickness, discomfort and emotional hypersensitivity showing that this pregnancy was a surprise and therefore completely unplanned. Chances are that she was irresponsible, and did not use contraceptives.


"Such signs made her know that she was not alone in her body."

This continues to give the impression of a somewhat naive and irresponsible mother who relies on 'signs' to confirm her pregnancy rather than having planned or being aware enough to know. The line saying "she was not alone in her body" implies that she was being taken over by some unknown being and had no choice but to accept this new presence.


"She carried him full term tight up under her heart."

The mother makes no attempt to abort the baby and carries him for the full nine months. The phrase 'tight up under her heart' shows that she loved and deeply cared for the unborn son.


"She carried him like the poor carry hope, hope you get a break or a visa, hope one child go through and remember you."

This simile compares how she carried the child to how those in poverty carry their hope. This shows that the mother likely saw the son as a potential ticket out of poverty- a child that may secure that elusive visa and get an opportunity to work abroad, and, remembering his mother, send remittances to her. Hope is repeated 3 times here, almost as if to show that where there is a paucity (lack) of money, there is an excess of hope.


"He had no father. The man she made him with had more like him, he was fair-minded he treated all his children with equal and unbiased indifference."

This line boldly states the lack of a father figure in the child's life. The man who had biologically fathered the child had no intention of caring for him. The subsequent line, which states 'the man she made him with,' gives an impression that the creation of the child was a mechanical, routine process, that, much like the biological father's regard for his child, was devoid of emotion or real care. There was a paternal gamete supplier, but no father.

The speaker goes on in sarcastically referring to the man as 'fair-minded,' due to his indiscriminate disregard for his children. These lines would be somewhat comical, had they not been given with such venomous indictment of the prevalence of parental truancy. He has several children, but makes no attempt to support any of them emotionally or financially.


"She raise him twice, once as mother then as father,"

This line continues to show the impact of the absence of the father- the mother takes the role of both mother and father. She makes every effort to be supportive to this son of whom she expects so much.


"set no ceiling on what he could be doctor, earth healer, pilot take wings."

This continues to establish the high expectations held by the mother. She believes his potential is limitless- he could become anything in the world.


"But now he tells her he is working for you, that you value him so much you give him one whole submachine gun for him alone."

This is the volta or turning point of the poem. Up to this point, the hopes of the mother have been built up and her love and care for her son has been displayed. Her hopes are completely dashed now though, when he tells her that he has been recruited by a gunman. The persona now completely doubles down on the tone of anger/resigned sadness that was underscored previously in the mentions of paternal absenteeism.

This line is a good example of irony. The mother is told that this gunman values her son so much that he gives him his own submachine gun. This is ironic because the son feels this false sense of pride because he is put in charge of this gun. He feels that he is held in a high esteem by the gunman because he is given the responsibility of a terrible weapon that can only cause destruction to himself and his community.



"He says you are like a father to him she is wondering what kind of father would give a son hot and exploding death, when he asks him for bread."

The son, having had no father figure while growing up due to an indifferent father, now views this gunman as his father figure. The mother questions his idolization of this donor of guns using a biblical allusion to Matthew 7:9, which states, "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?" (a similar verse is at Luke 11:11). The son's penury has led him to seek material goods, so why would this "father figure" offer him a weapon of certain death? The woman accuses the man of being purely wicked and having no regard for her son's wellbeing.


"She went downtown and bought three and one-third yards of black cloth and a deep crowned and veiled hat for the day he draw his bloody salary."

The mother is completely convinced that this induction into gun violence will inevitably get him killed. In melancholic resignation, she prepares for his funeral by purchasing a hat and the material for a dress. She knows that he will eventually draw his 'bloody salary,' i.e. he will reap the rewards of violence- death.


"She has no power over you and this at the level of earth, what she has are prayers and a mother’s tears and at knee city she uses them."

The mother knows that she cannot physically combat the gunman, but, being religious, she believes that she can implore the spiritual, righteous power of God. Faith is the only strength she can possibly use to fight him. She uses her tears, a manifestation of her grief and sadness for her son and a symbol of condemnation of the man who has given her reason to cry, at "knee city." This is a sort of Jamaican term that refers to long sessions of prayer, kneeling. So, the mother prays for her son and implores the intrinsic power of her motherly tears.


"She says psalms for him, she reads psalms for you, she weeps for his soul, her eyewater covers you."

The mother continues her spiritual warfare with this man who has recruited her son. She says psalms for her son- hoping to shield and protect him. However, she reads psalms for the man, (reading psalms for someone often means to hope for bad things to befall your enemies) hoping to injure and inhibit him.

Her tears continue to flow for her son as she implores the forces of heaven.


"She is throwing a partner with Judas Iscariot’s mother the thief on the left-hand side of the cross, his mother is the banker, her draw though is first and last for she still throwing two hands as mother and father."

This stanza is rife with biblical allusions. She is engaged in a savings agreement (called a partner in Jamaica, a meeting in Barbados or a sou sou in other Caribbean islands) with Judas Iscariot's mother (the mother of the well-known betrayer of Jesus) and the thief who was crucified with Jesus. The thief's mother is the banker, who keeps the money- meaning that she may have her money stolen if the thief learnt it from his mother. These women seem to belong to a club of mothers of 'infamous offspring,' reinforcing the point that even people who have done some of the most ignominious acts in human history have mothers.

The fact that she must hold a savings agreement with these mothers of notorious biblical men doesn't bode well for her, as a partner agreement requires trust and honour among the members. The persona says the mother has two ‘draws’ (payments) coming from the ‘partner’ because she has borne the responsibility of both parental roles. being both mother and father to the boy. She has the first and last payments- the last being particularly risky in a partner since dishonesty begins to influence the participants the longer they wait to draw. Similarly, she had the first draw and brought him into the world and she will be there when his life comes to an end, taking the last draw.


"She is prepared, she is done. Absalom."

The mother has prepared herself for the inevitable passing of her son due to his involvement in this criminal activity. She has bought her dress materials for his funeral, and she has prayed. There is nothing more that she can do.

The final word, 'Absalom' is spoken sort of like an 'Amen' at the end of a poem. This is a biblical allusion to David's son Absalom, who was killed after plotting to kill his father. David however, still feels grief at the death of this son who plotted to kill him. In accepting to be employed by the gunman, the son has basically plotted against his mother’s investment in him and her limitless expectations for him. He has killed her hopes.

The mother, like King David, will experience profound grief over the death of her wayward son.





Figurative Devices


Simile

"She carried him like the poor carry hope"

This simile compares how she carried the child to how those in poverty carry their hope. This shows that the mother likely saw the son as a potential ticket out of poverty- a child that may secure that elusive visa and get an opportunity to work abroad, and, remembering his mother, send remittances to her.


"He says you are like a father to him"

The son compares the gunman to a father, showing that he fills a gap left by his own absent father.


Allusion

"what kind of father would give a son hot and exploding death, when he asks him for bread."

The mother questions the son's idolization of this donor of guns using a biblical allusion to Matthew 7:9, which states, "Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?" (a similar verse is at Luke 11:11). The son's penury has led him to seek material goods, so why would this "father figure" offer him a weapon of certain death? The woman accuses the man of being purely wicked and having no regard for her son's wellbeing.


"She says psalms for him, she reads psalms for you,"

This is an allusion to the biblical book of Psalms. The mother says psalms hoping to protect her child, but she reads psalms for the gunman in hopes of his defeat or injury.


"She is throwing a partner with Judas Iscariot’s mother the thief on the left-hand side of the cross, his mother is the banker,"

This is a biblical allusion to Judas Iscariot, the man who betrayed Jesus in the bible, and the thief who was crucified on the left of Jesus in the bible. She is engaged in a savings agreement (called a partner in Jamaica, a meeting in Barbados or a sou sou in other Caribbean islands) with Judas Iscariot's mother (the mother of the well-known betrayer of Jesus) and the thief who was crucified with Jesus. The thief's mother is the banker, who keeps the money- meaning that she may have her money stolen if the thief learnt it from his mother.


"Absalom."

The final word, 'Absalom' is spoken sort of like an 'Amen' at the end of a poem. This is a biblical allusion to David's son Absalom, who was killed after plotting to kill his father. David however, still feels grief at the death of this son who plotted to kill him. In accepting to be employed by the gunman, the son has basically plotted against his mother’s investment in him and her limitless expectations for him. He has killed her hopes.

The mother, like King David, will experience profound grief over the death of her wayward son.