Symbol and Ritual

In class we defined a symbol to be “something that represents something else,” or “a simplistic representation of something more complex,” or something with shared meaning. I loved the way the poem, Black Mother, used an individual slave mother as a symbol to represent the suffering of the entire slave population. Using one woman as a symbol helps bring the suffering to a real, relatable point that hits home for everyone. No one would want to imagine their mother enduring the things described in that poem and on that level we can empathize with the people who suffered from this- even if we ourselves are somewhat detached.

This poem is a great example of understanding “who gets to share what meaning.” As I referenced earlier, with regards to the particular subject of slavery, it is not likely that many readers in today’s society can relate to suffering or pain on this level. Therefore it would be logical to assume that no one could “share” or understand the “meaning” or purpose of the literature. However, with the use of a mother as a symbol to represent the suffering and pain, we are instantly connected to the material. Everyone can relate to her as a symbol and therefore everyone is able to understand the meaning of this work. Through the use of symbols, I would argue that everyone is able to share the meaning of the poem.

Reading this poem evoked strong memories of being with my mother when I was a child. Though not exactly related to the ways in which the mother is represented in the poem, my empirical example of ritual is my mother reading me bedtime stories. I’m sure at times she felt as though she were suffering having to read the same silly stories I loved over and over, I’ll never forget or take for granted those memories.

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