From the beginning of this poem ( the title) to the end of the poem we can feel a sense of pain that the son undergoes as well as the pain and love a mother of a refugee also goes through. In this poem- Refugee mother and her child, Chinua Achebe starts off with a very melancholy tone as we are made to imagine the sorrow in a mother’s heart as she would soon have to forget and let go of her dying son.
Achebe begins with a bond of affection by using words like ‘madonna’ which implies that just like baby jesus was in the arms of Mother Mary, the mother was holding the son in her arms in this refugee camp.The picture perfect image – the ideal image of motherhood. The idea of the first stanza is that the tenderness that the character, the mother, expresses towards her child in the poem surpasses the ideal image of Mary and Jesus. The two situations do not even compare to the depth of love and tenderness of the Refugee Mother and Child.
The poet then repeats the word ‘washed’ when talking about the refugee children. With this image achebe tries to bring out the state of the refugees.The agony which is stressed by the use of words such as diarrohoea and empty bellies can clearly be visualized. The poet creates a sickly atmosphere in which the reader tends to emphasize with refugee’s on such an occasion.
The ‘ghost smile’ of the mother is a metaphor used in an apt sense by the poet. The poet gives us a vivid image of the fake smile of the mother towards her son. She probably wants to give her son a sense of comfort and thus presents this smile in the form of a picture perfect image.This line of the poem conveys the mother’s pride towards her son, the poem describes this by being able to faintly see her pride towards her son in her eyes.
The poet diction by using the word skull foreshadows the death of the son and tells us about the downfall of this refugee. Throughout the poem there is a connotation of death. The punctuation and references to death ( eg- grave) in the poem is definite and morbid. There are long sentences with enjambment.
These long sentences could be compared to the long lasting love the mother had for her son.There are many hyphenated words such as – washed –out ribs and dried-up bottoms. This adds to the distraught and agonizing picture of the son. It gives the reader a sickly imagine.
The poet towards the end describes the parting of the son’s hair and then uses the punctuation of 3 full stops. This gives the reader that the poem is going to shift to another scene and makes us imagine something else. For example here the poet has made us visualize the parting of the son’s hair and then makes us visualize a different life where she did the same thing for him before breakfast or before school.The poem could also be after the child has died and the mother is still holding and caressing her child, gently, carefully and cautiously yet – he is no longer alive.
This action is explained in a simile and compares her parting his thinning hair to laying flowers on a tiny grave – another link to the possible idea that the son is already dead. The mother is gently parting her son’s hair as a way to say goodbye, since he has passed on – just like another form of saying good bye, placing flowers on a grave starting closure and acceptance.