Thursday, 1 May 2014

Refugee Mother and Child { Chinua Achebe }

Chinua Achebe is a great Nigerian novelist poet and short story writer.  His first novel “Things Fall Apart” has been translated into 45 languages.  His poem “Refugee Mother and Child” is a celebration of motherhood. It is a refugee camp somewhere in Africa. The poet gives us a realistic picture of a mother and her child. Hundreds of poor people are thrown out of their homes due to political disturbances or natural calamities. The refugees are in a miserable condition. There are innumerable mothers and children in the same miserable condition in the refugee camp. Their children are slowly dying of poverty and diseases.
 But the poet draws our attention to a particular mother and her child. They are compared with St.Mary holding infant Jesus in her arms. Madonna loves her child because Jesus is the saviour of mankind and the son of God. The world worships her and her child. Juxtaposed with this, the poet introduces a poor ordinary, unknown mother and child. The mother knows her child is slowly dying. It is of no use caring for him. Other mothers in the camp know this truth about their children and so they are careless about their dying children. They don’t want to further waste their time and energy and love for the dying children. It is futile for them. So they are passive. The air was heavy with odours of diarrhoea of unwashed children.
 But this mother is very different. She is the epitome of motherhood. She loves her child. Her love for him is infinite and divine. She does not want anything in return for her love and sacrifice. She combs his dirty hair left on the skull of his head. She carefully parts the hair as if she were preparing him to his school in the morning. She is doing a lot of work including kissing his forehead. It was an act of putting flowers in his small coffin- the last love of a mother to her son. The poet uses the words ‘ghost’ and ‘rust’ as metaphors of death. The mother keeps smiling while combing his hair, because she knows that very soon the child will die. While carrying infant Jesus in her arms, St.Mary too knows well that her son will be nailed to the cross for the benefit of humanity. Therefore he would become the Saviour of mankind. But the refugee mother cannot be proud of any such achievement of her poor son. His death is not a matter for the world. Yet her maternal love for her child surpasses even the love of Madonna for her infant Jesus. The refugee mother cannot expect anything in return for her sacrifice and maternal love for her poor sick child. Still her love and care continues for him till his last breath. The comparison with Madonna and Infant Jesus serves to heighten the emotional appeal of the poem. Simple and direct, the poem “Refugee Mother and Child” touches our hearts with love and compassion and enhances the dignity of motherhood.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS                                                                                             Maya Angelou
Dr.Maya Angelou is an African American poet, memoirist, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, dramatist, civil rights activist, film maker, director and teacher. She won international recognition with the publication of the poem “I know why the Caged Bird Sings”. Maya Angelou portrays white supremacy by comparing the white people to free birds because the whites believe that the history of America is the history of whites only. But in truth America is a land of various cultures and nationalities. It is the Blacks who built today’s America with the sweat and blood of their forefathers. The whites think that they are the inheritors of the national tradition. So the poet says that “the free bird leaps on the back of the wind and dips his wing in the orange sun’s rays”.
Maya Angelou evokes sympathy for the black by comparing them to caged birds who can only be silent witness of the injustice around them. The caged bird sings of freedom. The Blacks have been oppressed and enslaved by the whites for centuries. The caged bird’s “wings are clipped and his feet are tied”. It means that its wings are useless because it cannot fly in the cage.  Every bird is born to fly in the blue sky. It is his birth right. Similarly freedom and citizenship rights are the birth right of the blacks. The bird opens his throat to sing of the freedom. On the other hand the free bird stands for the whites of America. They enjoy freedom and all other pleasures of life. So they don’t know the pain of the caged birds. They dream of more and more profits and pleasures of life. In the past they were engaged in slave trade, taking innocent people away from Africa and are sold to various parts of Europe and America and made huge profits. But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams. It means the Blacks are the silent witness of the injustices around them. They are helplessly watching the segregation and discrimination in their country. In this poem Maya Angelou inspires the blacks in the USA to continue their protests under the leadership of Martin Luther King for their constitutional and God given rights.

 The poet compares the whites to the free bird and the black to the caged bird. The metaphor is a poetic technique which adds charm to the poem. The wings of the caged bird are clipped and its feet tied. By means of this metaphor she convinces us of the world of the miserable and pathetic living condition of the blacks in America. With the use of another metaphor “fat worms” the poet speaks about the greed and profit that the white people are still dreaming of.  When the free bird is thinking of opportunities of trade, the caged bird stands on the grave of dreams. This is another metaphor for the unfulfilled dreams of the blacks about their freedom and citizenship rights.


  1. very good interpretation, simple language and easy to understand..Thank you sir

  2. There's repetition of everything throughout the summary ..pls do include more information regarding poetic devices ,structure,theme etc

  3. Very useful. I am very thankful to this writer.

  4. Very useful. I am very thankful to this writer.

  5. Thank you so much. This notes are very useful.