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Analysis of "Refugee Mother and Child

By Chinua Achebe

The success of the poem Refugee mother and child lies within Chinua Achebe's ability to present an
interfering, yet authentic and compelling poem. His own literary language is blended in with images and
descriptions that create a sense of compassion for the unfortunate refugees. By skillfully contrasting the
imagery of life and death, showing irony of singing in the mother's eyes, and cleverly foreshadowing, Achebe
effectively helps to direct the readers towards the eventual death of the mother's child in the poem. Using
literary devices such alliterations, contrasts, imagery, tones and symbols, Achebe proficiently specifies the
ultimate destinies of the protagonists in the poem.

Achebe starts his first stanza with the imagery of the famous painting of "Madonna and Child. This
metaphor of the painting symbolizing a great mother, and Madonna being Mary, the mother of Jesus here,
expresses a divine, soft and tender feeling because in the bible Mary has always been a character of love,
loyalty and honesty, which is reinforced with the rhyme in the second line of the first stanza between
tenderness and forgets. The rhyme manages to reinforce this because it has a flowing and delicate sound,
which symbolizes Mary. The two words "tenderness and "forgets, also have a contrast; forget being gone and
tenderness showing a current situation. Achebe uses this contrast to show, distinction between the refugee
mother and Madonna, but it immediately hints on the destiny of characters in the story. Mary's child, Jesus
passed away, and it seems to be that the refugee mother's child is also going to depart. However, the writer
clearly distinguishes images here. With a very compassionate stanza in the poem, the second stanza changes
into a very different setting; "The air was heavy with odours/ of diarrhoea of unwashed children.. This line
shows the imagery of a dirty refugee camp in contrast to the first stanza. Diarrhoea and odours give a very poor
idea of how life must be in the refugee camp. This contrast was probably set up to really express the terrible
state of the refugee camp, as the poem started in a beautiful compassionate way, therefore suddenly changing
to the deprived scene of the refugee camp, emphasizes on its terrible state. Achebe also uses vivid phrases
and words "unwashed children with washed out ribs, creating sense impressions. The repetition of wash
emphasizes on the dirtiness of the refugee camp. There is also an irony here, due to the repetition of wash and
dirty children, because essentially we are discussing the unfortunate state of children in the refugee camp, but
wash makes a contrast to the actual scene. This makes the reader think about how appalling the camp might
be, as wash gives a positive sense, but then the reader is hit by the dirty children again. "Washed out ribs
successfully indicate the poor health of the child, because usually young children are supposed to be chubby
and round, but this child has clear under-nourishment, essentially showing the state of the whole refugee camp,
by making an example of this child. The great contrast of ideas in the first stanza and second stanza effectively
make the reader feel sympathetic towards the refugee mother and child.

The mother's emotions are well expressed in the first stanza by an alliteration that makes the reader
understand the pain and distress that the mother is feeling. ".mother's tenderness for a son she soon would
have to forget. The 'S' sound here are being used to emphasize tenderness from the mother towards her child,
as the 'S' has a very delicate and flowing sound when tenderness is pronounced, thus also creating a
depressing mood, which highlights on forgetting her son. This shows that there is a sad mood here, as by
foreshadowing Achebe suggests that the refugee mother's child is going to pass away. By joining tenderness
with the 'S' sounds in son she soon, were to forget, this depressing situation emphasizes on forgetting,
meaning her son is soon to part away into the afterlife. t gives a very kind-hearted feel to the poem, because
the death is a calm and slow one, in the mother's hands, not alone without her comfort, which would ease the
child's suffering and pain. Furthermore it must be stressed that "son...soon...forget is an example of
foreshadowing as forgetting her son, indicates the destiny of the central character, which is the mother's child.

The first 5 lines of the second stanza give a very intense imagery of children dying. "Dried-up bottoms
is used in the 3 line to show dehydration, which of course is a constant struggle refugees have to deal with. The
writer shows that bottoms are unfortunately dried-up, when actually the child's bottom is supposed to be soft
and round. This gives a horrific imagery of the refugee camp and the ill-fated misery that refugees have to
experience there. The starvation that the refugees undergo is expressed well by using 'B' alliteration in the 5

line of the second stanza; ".steps behind blown empty bellies. This quote emphasizes on the under-
nourishment of the children, as they are fighting diseases and a lack of food. Starving children, who are also
suffering from illness, get round stomachs, and the 'B' sound here shows harsh reality to the life and suffering
at this moment in the refugee's life. When reading this line, the 3 'B's are expressed in a tough way, right after
each other, in contrast to if that line were to state "steps at the rear of puffed empty stomachs'. The 'B's have a
sharp and bold sound to it, which is a skillful way to express the poor state of suffering refugees and the lack of
food they have.

As we read on, we the quote "Most mothers there had long ceased to care but not this one; she
held. This quote shows the contrast of this refugee mother and other mothers who might live in countries
where this suffering is not currently taking place. The semi-colon emphasizes this contrast because it joins the
two ideas of the refugee mother compared with other mothers who are more fortunate. This clearly shows how
tough life is for refugees in their camps. This line distinguishes the mother from the other mothers who don't
have to suffer these terrible situations, because the refugee hasn't yet lost faith in a slight chance of the child
surviving, although her child is dying, she comforts both him, and herself. The "rust colored hair left" is another
situation that illustrates the under-nourishment of the child and the lack of food. The word "skull" is disturbing
and it reflects back to the line before where the writer mentioned "ghost smile, hence by showing these two
images of death, the writer shows that the fate of her child dying is just about to happen. Note the use of
ellipses that force the reader, by having a small pause to swiftly reflect back on the poem, to think of the
attachment and emotional bond between mother and child. The combing of hair is the last signal. t is a custom,
and is a simple act taken for granted in our everyday lives. "Little daily act of no consequence. t is the very
last loving touch of the mother. Due to the infirmity of the child, the mother offers her child, with the only simple
pleasure she can present him; she combs his hair. This intensifies the reader\'s compassion and sympathy for
the mother. The plainness of this act brings to life the terrible nature of the painful conditions.

The poet uses simple graphic images, such as ellipses, dashes and semi-colons creating a visual
image that the reader can sense the feeling in the poem. The dashes in lines 11 and 12 definitely emphasize
that the mother is not yet giving up on her child as it slowly dies; thereby she is being strong about the terrible
circumstances, although she knows that her son is about to part into a second life from her. Dashes are a
strong affect here, as they are like a small pause, so the 2 pauses, are like short thinking periods, maybe a
short session where the fate is now clearly evident that her child is to die, which intensifies the pain the mother
has to undergo as her child is about to pass away. But, in the quote "singing in her eyes, that the mother is not
giving up on her child. This does seem ironic, as the mother wants to sing, given the terribly sad situation of her
beloved child is dying. Although the child is about to die, it is still alive and the mother hopes and prays to try to
save her child, she doesn't give up on it, even though the 2 dashes from before were already clear signs on the
slow passing away of her child, so this emphasizes on the pain helpless mothers have to undergo in the
refugee camps.

The last few lines of the poem show how the mother has to say goodbye to her child. The mother
makes the imagery so simple by using this simile, ". Did it like putting flowers on a tiny grave. Putting flowers
on a tiny grave is a common act, during a burial, but tiny here is not used to emphasize the size of the grave,
but how the mother has cared to be with her son until his death. The flowers are used to show the mother's
final gesture of farewell, illustrating a sad and intense imagery as unfortunately this child had to die before her
mother actually has, which is not the right thing in life, showing how the child's life was inopportune, but for the
mother, it definitely wasn't a waste. Therefore this quote also demonstrates the attachment between the mother
and child, and how the last gesture of combing her child\'s hair, was like saying goodbye to him.

Chinua Achebe is an excellent writer, and has made this poem an intruding, yet plausible read. This
poem is an example of one of his great works, which uses many different techniques such as irony to show the
emotions the refugee mother has to undergo, foreshadowing to gain the attention of the readers and look at the
seriousness of such an event; the contrasting image of life and death, and the contrast between more fortunate
mothers and the one mentioned in the poem, which therefore show lives and emotions a refugee embarks on,
as well as alliteration to highlight the harsh reality of a refugee's life. Skilfully balanced and combined in the
poem with intense imagery and descriptions, this poem is an excellent example of Achebe's poem writing at its
best. The tone in the poem is very depressing and painful as it shows the pain of losing a loved one, and the
sorrows that war causes. Thus, the poem teaches us about the blessed relationship between a mother and her

REA0 Tll3
Tre poer |oo|s al lre o|ller rardsr|p |r 8|alra dur|rg |ls c|v|| War W|lr N|ger|a.
3larval|or ard d|sease Were r|le, ard cr||drer d|ed W|lr urcorcerred regu|ar|ly.
Tre poel exar|res ore case Wrere a rolrer d|d care ard corl|rued lo lreal rer
cr||d as |l re Wou|d ||ve.

A80uT TlE P0ET
Cr|rua Acreoe Was oorr |r 0g|d| (N|ger|a) |r Noveroer 1930. le Was lre sor ol a leacrer al a
r|ss|or scroo|.
le Was scroo|ed al lre 0overrrerl Co||ege |r uruar|a ard lrer al lre ur|vers|ly Co||ege |r loadar
Wrere re rece|ved a 8acre|ors degree |r 1953, rav|rg spec|a||sed |r Erg||sr, l|slory ard Treo|ogy.
le lrereupor slud|ed oroadcasl|rg W|lr lre 88C, aller Wr|cr re Wor|ed lor lre vo|ce ol N|ger|a. Laler
re Was appo|rled researcr le||oW al lre ur|vers|ly ol N|ger|a, Wrere re everlua||y oecare a prolessor
ol Erg||sr.
lr 191 Acreoe rarr|ed Crr|sl|e Cr|rWe 0|o|| W|lr Wror re rad lour cr||drer.
lr 19Z c|v|| War oro|e oul |r N|ger|a Wrer lre Calro||c dor|raled prov|rce ol 8|alra allerpled
|rdeperderce lror lre Vos|er dor|raled cerlra| slale. 0ur|rg lrose lalelu| years, Acreoe Wor|ed as
ar aroassador lor lre 8|alrar goverrrerl.
Tre War Werl oad|y lor lre 8|alrars Wro sullered |rrerse|y, ard slarval|or Was r|le. Tre poel's
l|rslrard exper|erce ol lre rardsr|p ard slrugg|e |rsp|red r|r lo Wr|le "Reluee Vorner ano 0n||o".
Acreoe ras Wr|ller severa| rove|s ard rary poers. lrdeed, re |s cors|dered lo oe ore ol lre l|resl
||lerary arl|sls lo rave core oul ol Alr|ca. le |s a oe||ever lral a|| ||leralure "snou|o nave a messae,
snou|o nave a purpose".
le rel|red |r 1981 oul |r 1990 Was para|ysed lror lre Wa|sl doWr |r a car acc|derl.

Read the |eft co|umn and then answer
the fo||ow|ng quest|ons:

"ho Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother's tenderness
for a son she soon will have to forget."
O hat |s meant by "Madonna and Child"? (2}
1he 'Madonna ls Mary Lhe moLher of !esus ChrlsL 1he Chlld" ls Lherefore her son !esus A sLaLue of
Lhe Madonna holdlng Lhe lnfanL !esus ls common ln Lhe caLhollc church 8emember LhaL Achebe wroLe
Lhls poem ln Lhe CaLhollc provlnce of 8lafra where sLaLures of Madonna and Lhe chlld would have been
O hy w||| the mother soon have to forget her ch||d? (4
LarvaLlon was rlfe ln Lhe refugee camp where Lhe moLher and chlld llved Chlldren ln Lhe camp were
dylng wlLh regularlLy and Lhe moLher knows LhaL her own son would probably be dead
"7he air was heavy with odours
of diarrhoea of unwashed children."
O 5|a|n how the mean|ng of these two ||nes wou|d a|ter |f one 5|aced a comma after the word
"diarrhoea" (2}
|lroul lre corra, lre rear|rg Wou|d oe lral lre odours Were ol d|arrroea lror lre urWasred cr||drer. Tre corra,
roWever, Wou|d a|ler lre rear|rg lo ore |r Wr|cr lre odours Were ar|s|rg lror d|arrroea AN0 lror lre urWasred
O hy does the author not then use commas |n these ||nes? (2}
8y omlLLlng Lhe commas Lhe poeL forces Lhe reader Lo Lhlnk ouL Lhe meanlng of hls Lwo llnes Pe ls also
able Lo hlde Lwo or Lhree dlfferenL meanlngs ln each conLexL

"0nwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in laboured
steps behind blown empty bellies."
O hy wou|d the ch||dren's r|bs be "washed-out"? (4}
"wasneo-our" cou|d rear l|red or exrausled, or |l cou|d rear lral lre esserce ol ||le ras laded aWay as Wrer lre co|ours
|r c|olr rave oeer Wasred oul. Tre cr||drer's r|os are "uasneo-our" oecause lre cr||drer are so slarved lral lrere |s
scarce|y ary l|esr |ell or lrer. Tre|r ||ves are lad|rg aWay, lre|r esserce |s var|sr|rg as lrey s|oW|y d|e.

O f the ch||dren's be|||es are em5ty, why wou|d they be "blown"? (4}
Tre cr||drer are suller|rg lror |Wasr|or|or, Wr|cr |eads cr||drer's oe|||es lo o|oW up.
"Most mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one."
O 5|a|n the |m5||cat|on of the words, "Most mothers there had long ceased to care" (4}
Tre rolrers a|| |roW lral lre|r cr||drer are dy|rg. ll |s Wral |s |roWr as a "oelenoe meonan|sm" lral lre rolrers use lo
prolecl lrerse|ves. Trere |s rolr|rg lrey car do lo preverl lre|r cr||drer lror dy|rg, ard so lrey prolecl lrerse|ves lror
psycro|og|ca| deslrucl|or oy g|v|rg lre appeararce lral lrey ro |orger care.

"3he held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother's
pride as she combed the rust-coloured
hair left on his skull."
O omment on the 5oet's use of the words "ghost" and "skull" |n these ||nes (4}

Tre erl|re poer cerlres or dealr. Tre Words "sku||" ard "nosr" re|rlorce lr|s lrere.
"Snosr" |s used lW|ce: "a nosr sm||e" ard "rne nosr ol a morner's pr|oe".
A grosl |s oul a d|r sradoW ol ||le. Tre cr||drer are d|r sradoWs ol lre|r prev|ous ||ves, sradoWs lral are dy|rg. 8ul lre
Worar's sr||e |s a|so a grosl ol a sr||e, ard rer pr|de |s oul a grosl ol rer lorrer pr|de.
Al lre sare l|re, lre cr||d ras oeer slarved lor so |org lral lrere |s ro rore l|esr or r|s read. Tre s|u|| |s r|dder W|lr a
rere ve|| ol s||r. 0ealr |s oul a srorl Way oll.

"ln another life
this would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she
did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave."
O hat does the 5oet mean by "in another life"? (4}
Tre "orner ||le" |s lre ||le oelore lre War, ||le oelore lre slarval|or, ||le Wrer everylr|rg Was rorra| ard lood Was |r

O hy wou|d th|s act norma||y be "of no consequence"? (4}
lr a rorra| ||le oelore lre War, lre cr||d Wou|d core doWr lor orea|lasl ard r|s rolrer Wou|d coro r|s ra|r. ll Wou|d oe a
rear|rg|ess geslure, ar everyday lr|rg. 8ul rere |r lre relugee carp ard W|lr lre cr||d dy|rg, lre Worar's acl ol p|ay|rg
W|lr lre cr||d's ra|r ras lre |rlers|ly ol lre l|ra| acl ol |ove, lre |rlers|ly ol pull|rg l|oWers or r|s grave.

"ho Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother's tenderness
for a son she soon will have to forget."
O 5|a|n the s|gn|f|cance of the t|t|e of th|s 5oem "Refugee Mother and Child" |n connect|on w|th the
o5en|ng ||ne (4}
0ur|rg lre c|v|| War |r 8|alra, lre popu|al|or ol lral prov|rce Was dec|raled ard slarved |rlo suor|ss|or. Tr|s Worar ard
rer cr||d are |r a relugee carp. Tre Worar ro|ds rer dy|rg cr||d. Tre lWo |oo| |||e a slalue ard rer|rd lre poel ol lre
slalue ol lre Vadorra ard Cr||d Wr|cr adorr so rary Calro||c crurcres.

O omment on the r|ch |magery |n these o5en|ng three ||nes (4}
Tre Calro||c Crurcr's leacr|rg |s lral lre |ove Wr|cr ex|sled oelWeer Vary ard lre oaoy Jesus Was lola|. Tre poel,
roWever, draWs allerl|or lo lre |ove oelWeer lre relugee rolrer ard rer cr||d, lre pass|or ol |l. ll rer|rds r|r ol arolrer
slalue, lral ol lre Vadorra ro|d|rg rer dead sor aller lre cruc|l|x|or. Trere |s |rrerse lerderress ard pass|or |r oolr
lr ore serse, roWever, lre slalue ol lre Vadorra ard Cr||d |s rol as lerder as lr|s scere oecause rere lre rolrer
a|ready |roWs lral rer cr||d |s or lre po|rl ol dealr Wrereas lre Vadorra d|d rol yel |roW lral rer cr||d Wou|d oe
cruc|l|ed ear|y |r r|s ||le.

"7he air was heavy with odours
of diarrhoea of unwashed children."
O hy does the 5oet go |nto such deta|| w|th th|s descr|5t|on? (4}
Tre poel W|sres lo or|rg rore lre erorr|ly ol lre calaslropre. le does rol Warl us lo rave jusl a vague |rpress|or ol
lre rorror oul ralrer |roW lre lu|| erorr|ly ol |l. le lrerelore slresses lre dela||s ol lre sre||s, lre d|arrroea ard lre d|rl.
Tre a|r |s "neavy" W|lr |l, oppress|ve W|lr |l.

"0nwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in laboured
steps behind blown empty bellies."
O 5|a|n the 5arado of the "unwashed children" w|th the "washed-out ribs" and "dried- up bottoms" (4}
Tre poel |s p|ay|rg arourd W|lr lre Word "uasneo", |sr'l re? Tre cr||drer are urWasred oul lre|r r|os are "uasneo our".
Tre l|esr |s a|| oul gore, |eav|rg jusl lre s|e|ela| lrare ol lre cr||drer covered oy s||r oul W|lr ro l|esr.
"wasneo our" a|so rears lral lre esserce ras var|sred. rer lre co|ours rave oeer Wasred oul ol c|olr, lre esserce
ol lre c|olr ras gore. Ard so lre esserce ol lre cr||drer ras laded, lre|r very ||ves are s|oW|y eoo|rg aWay.

"3he held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother's
pride as she combed the rust-coloured
hair left on his skull."
O hy does the 5oet use "ghost" on two occas|ons |n these ||nes? (4}
Tre erl|re poer cerlres or dealr. Tre Words "sku||" ard "nosr" re|rlorce lr|s lrere. "Snosr" |s used lW|ce: "a nosr
sm||e" ard "rne nosr ol a morner's pr|oe".
A grosl |s oul a d|r sradoW ol ||le. Tre cr||drer are d|r sradoWs ol lre|r prev|ous ||ves, sradoWs lral are dy|rg. 8ul lre
Worar's sr||e |s a|so a grosl ol a sr||e, ard rer pr|de |s oul a grosl ol rer lorrer pr|de.

O hy |s the mother's 5r|de "in her eyes" and not on her ||5s or |n her vo|ce? (4}
Tre Worar ras pr|de |r rer cr||d oul lre pr|de car or|y oe |r rer eyes. Pr|de or rer ||ps Wou|d erla|| a sr||e oul, W|lr
dealr so c|ose al rard, lrere |s ro sr||e. L||eW|se, lrere |s ro rapp|ress |r rer vo|ce as sre corlerp|ales lre cerla|r
dealr ol rer cr||d.

"ln another life
this would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she
did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave."
O 5|a|n the s|gn|f|cance of the 5oet's words "before his breakfast and school" (4}
Tre poel |s |oo||rg lo ar ear||er ||le oelore lre War oro|e oul, a ||le Wrer lood Was |r aourdarce, a ||le Wrer orea|lasl ard
scroo| Were ar everyday everl. NoW lrere |s ro orea|lasl, ro scroo|, oul or|y a relugee carp ard dealr.

O omment on the s|m||e "now she did it like putting flowers on a tiny grave" (2}
Tre Worar |s Walcr|rg rer cr||d dy|rg. ler ||ll|e acls ol |ove ard ||rdress are lrerelore rol ur|||e lre r|lua| ol pull|rg
l|oWers or r|s grave.

CRAL 0U$%$:

h|nua Achebe |s a be||ever that a|| ||terature "should have a message, should have a purpose"
O n v|ew of th|s, what message and 5ur5ose e|sts |n "Refugee Mother and Child"? (4}
Acreoe |s po|rl|rg oul lo us lre rorrors ol Warlare ard lre accorpary|rg rardsr|ps, lre slarval|or ard lre dealrs.
Acreoe Was ar aroassador lor 8|alra ard |l Was r|s duly lo or|rg lre slrugg|es lo lre allerl|or ol lre |rlerral|ora|
corrur|ly. Tr|s poer ras a s|r||ar purpose a|lrougr W|der |r d|rers|or oecause re |s ao|e lo la|| aooul lre elerra|
rardsr|p ol Warlare.

"Reluee Vorner ano 0n||o" porlrays peop|e approacr|rg dealr.
O 5|a|n fu||y whether you th|nk the 5oet has been successfu| |n th|s n your answer you may ||ke to
|nc|ude some of the fo||ow|ng: the way |n wh|ch the 5oet descr|bes death, and how he 5resents h|s
fee||ngs about death ons|der too the 5oet's use |anguage throughout the 5oem (10}
Rereroer lral rosl peop|e Wou|d agree lral lre poel |s |rdeed successlu| |r r|s porlraya| ol approacr|rg dealr, so |l
Wou|d oe urW|se lo go aga|rsl lr|s v|eWpo|rl ur|ess you are very s||||ed al ara|ys|s.
lr your ara|ys|s, you reed lo exar|re lre poel's use ol |arguage |r porlray|rg dealr. Loo| al r|s |rlerse descr|pl|ors ol
dealr, r|s preserlal|ors ol lre sre||s, r|s descr|pl|or ol lre dy|rg cr||drer Wro are |||e s|e|elors coaled W|lr s||r. Loo| al
lre rar|leslal|ors ol |ove, yel lre |rao|||ly lo a|ler lale. Ara|yse sucr Words as "nosr" ard "sku||", elc.

Commentary on Refugee motber and cbild by Cbinua Acbebe
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%rue and advanced works oI Chinua Achebe, ReIugee Mother and Child is a beautiIul
poem. Chinua Achebe was born in the 1930s in Ogidi, Nigeria. Chinua wrote this poem
aIter getting inspired by the citizens oI the countries which were going through war. He
illustrates the diIIiculties and suIIering they had to go through.
%he poem is organized into two stanzas each with diIIerent lengths. %he lines are more or
less the same size. %he lines are explained clearly and are easy to understand with simple
meaning. %he poet adopts the blank verse oI writing.
%he title is short and direct. It portrays the relationship between a mother and her child. It
shows the Ieelings oI a mother towards her child.
%he poem begins with a strong Ieeling oI a mother towards her child who is going to die
and the mother is not willing to give up on her child. %he poet compares Mother Mary
and Jesus to the mother and child showing religiousness and honesty oI them. %he poet
connects her to being a religious person. %his shows the mother's tenderness and love
towards her child. %he opening lines grab complete attention oI the reader and indulging
him completely into the poem.
Chinua then moves Irom the mother and child to the lives oI people who are living in the
reIugee camp. Odors and the stench oI diarrhea were throughout the camp. All the
children were suIIering Irom malnutrition and starvation. %he "washed-out ribs and dried
up bottoms" shows the lack oI basic necessities Ior survival. A Ieeling oI disparity and
hopelessness is seen all around the camp with other mothers who have given up hope.
%here is hope witnessed in one oI the mothers who doesn't let go her child and doesn't
stop counting on. %hough knowing...

Chinua Achebe was born in Nigeria in 1930. He was raised in the large village of Ogidi, one of the first centers of
Anglican missionary work in eastern Nigeria, and is a graduate of University College, Ibadan.

Cited in the London Sunday Times as one of the "1,000 Makers of the Twentieth Century for defining "A modern African
literature that was truly African and thereby making "a major contribution to the world literature, Chinua Achebe has
published novels, short stories, essays and childrens books. He is often cited as a major influence by the upcoming
generation of African writers including, Helon Habila, Tsitsi Dangarembga and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. His canonical
first novel, Things Fall Apart (1958), provides a counter-narrative to colonial notions of Africa as a savage place devoid of
culture before the arrival of the white man. While widening colonial definitions of culture and literarature, Mr. Achebes
writing crackles with life through animated dialogue, laugh-out-loud humour and clever turns of phrase that bring together
both Igbo and English words.

Mr. Achebe had an early career in radio that ended abruptly in 1966, when he left his post as director of external
broadcasting in Nigeria during the national upheaval that led to the Biafran War. He was appointed senior research fellow
at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and began lecturing widely abroad.

From 1972 to 1975, and again from 1987 to 1988, Mr. Achebe was professor of English at the University of Massachusetts,
Amherst, and also taught for one year at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

His volume of poetry hristmas in Biafra and Other Poems, written during the Biafran War, was the joint winner of the first
Commonwealth Poetry Prize. Of his novels, Arrow of God won the New Statesman-Jock Campbell Award, and Anthills of
Savannah was a finalist for the 1987 Booker Prize.

Mr. Achebe has received numerous honors from around the world, including the Honorary Fellowship of the American
Academy of Arts and Letters and Foreign Honorary Membership of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as
more than thirty honorary doctorates from universities in England, Scotland, the United States, Canada, Nigeria, and South
Africa. He is also the recipient of Nigerias highest honor for intellectual achievement, the Nigerian National Order of Merit,
and of Germanys Friedenpreis des Deutschen Buchhandels for 2002. In June 2007, Mr. Achebe won the Man Booker
International prize.

Mr. Achebe lives with his wife in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York where they teach at Bard College. They have four
children and three grandchildren.

Poems permission of Chinua Achebe, from ollected Poems
1971, 1973, 2004 Chinua Achebe
How are War Photographer and Mother in a refugee camp seen as anti-war poems?

To understand the two poems, their simiIarities, their differences and both their anti-war messages. One
must reaIIy study the poems in depth, as both poems have a deep, unfathomabIe significance behind them.

Both Poems Iook at the bitter hardships in war stricken areas of the worId as Chinua Achebe's "Mother in a
refugee camp" focuses on Biafra, Nigeria and CaroI Ann Duffy's (no specified Iocation) far from "(RuraI)
EngIand" emphasizing that most of us -the audience- don't actuaIIy experience any of this. Yet the two
poems highIight the negative effects war has on humanity as they bring the reader into a third person
perspective of two first person victims of war. The photographer, aIthough he is just a psychoIogicaI victim
(passive victim) of the war, he is stiII deepIy effected. We see this when the poem comments on his emotion
"from the airpIane he stares impassibIy" showing how the war has made him Iose spirit.

In "Mother in a refugee camp" the mentaI effect of war has been taken to a much more extreme IeveI. The
mother, whose chiId has died from starvation (a much more mentaIIy wrecking experience) sits there hoIding
a "ghost smiIe between her teeth" thinking of aII those memories of a proud mother she once had been. This
must be some psychoIogicaI deprivation taken to an extreme.
As the poems prove to be strictIy anti-war, the reader may notice that the writers of both poems have tried to
hoId a more distant approach to war. They strive in between direct aftermath of war and the Iong term
probIems war has on its victims. The poems bring out emotions in the reader, and makes their "eyebaIIs
prick out with tears, between the bath and pre-Iunch beers" showing how the imagery puts the reader into a
state of Iatent apathy and passive irascibiIity.
In War Photographer, Duffy creates some powerfuI and disturbing images in this poem. Four in particuIar
stand out:
-"fieIds which don't expIode beneath the feet of running chiIdren in a nightmare heat."
-"how the bIood stained into foreign dust."
-"a hundred agonies in bIack-and-white."
She tries to teII us that It can be difficuIt for us to reIate to suffering eIsewhere in the worId, so she tries to
make us feeI guiIty about it by using disturbing and powerfuI images. Images we wouId rather not want see
or reaIIy see. This brings the reader to the theme of anti-war, introducing events that we consider a
distressing meIanchoIy. By Iinking these two ideas together war is put into a detrimentaI Iight giving off an
anti-war message.
Even though both poems have a sad and negative tone, they have a informationaI awareness within them.
The authors aim to raise awareness within the readers to create guiIt and show us how peopIe out there die
and suffer aII the time whiIe we just push on my with our Iives. CaroI Ann Duffy uses a Iot of comparison and
reference to "RuraI EngIand, home." to enforce this, unIike Chinua Achebe who sticks to using more direct,
straightforward tooIs such as appeaIing to the senses. Achebe does this throughout the poem starting from
Iine two; "the tenderness" referring to the chiId, showing its innocence and purity. Which justifying war and
the effects it has on these peopIe, supporting the theme.
Then he continues taking a sudden contrasting switch, using the readers senses to create a vivid image if
disgust describing the surroundings as "heavy with odors of diarrhea." Then the poem petrifies the reader
with repuIsive and disturbing imagery, evoking sympathy and guiIt for the "unwashed chiIdren with with
washed out ribs" and their mothers, "Iong ceased to care." Long ceased to care, that means mothers, who
have just stop bothering with their chiIdren! In what state of mind must a mother be? To ignore the death
wish of her chiId? This is one of the many questions that the poems raises but Ieaves unanswered, creating
a mentaI resonance of the thoughts and feeIings one might have after finishing the poem. Very Effective.
AIthough these poems do not necessariIy Ieave the reader on a positive they Ieave a crass prodigious mark
in the audiences mind. It puts peopIe into a serious state of morose aItruism. A formidabIe anti-thesis
opposing to aII warIike acts and oppositions.
OveraII the two poems are very powerfuI since the authors CaroI Ann Duffy and Chinua Achebe create
images that resonate Iong after the poem has finished. What is chiIIing is the fact that after aII the
photographer and the mother have experienced to go what the went through they stiII don't make enough of
an impact to change the worId

1hough among Lhe bleakesL Lhe poems on Lhe 8lafran famlne reveal a personal dlmenslon ofLen mlsslng
from generlc lmages A MoLher ln a 8efugee Camp evokes a womans Lenderness for a son she soon
would have Lo forgeL he Look from Lhelr bundle of possesslons / A broken comb and combed / 1he
rusLcoloured halr lefL on hls skull a once mundane acL now akln Lo puLLlng flowers on a Llny grave