In the poem Ballad of Birmingham, by Dudley Randall, written in 1969, Mr. Randall uses of irony to describes the events of the mothers decision, and also her concern for the welfare of her darling little child. It seems odd that this child would even know what a freedom march is, but this would be considered normal back in the early 1960’s, when Mr. Martin Luther King Jr. had rallies and freedom marches to free the African American people from discrimination and segregation (Hunter 6). It also seems very ironic that the young child is acting like an adult in this particular situation (Hunter 12). I think the mother would be the one who would want to go to the march to free her people, not the child. In the poem “Ballad of Birmingham”, by Dudley Randall, written in 1969, Mr. Randall uses tone and irony to describe the events of the mothers decisions, and as well as her concern for her child’s well being.
In the first stanza irony is used in order to make reading the poem more interesting. The situation in this first stanza is also very important. The little child is in a desperate situation and wants to help better the lives of the African Americans. Randall also focuses on specific culture here. The speaker is allowing the reader to make a mental picture of one specific march in Birmingham (Hunter 17). But, you know as well as I, that with peace marches and rallies comes violence and hostility. This is exactly what the little girl’s mother is afraid of; this is why she will not let her go to the march. It also seems weird that her mother is so sure that going to church, instead of going to the march, will be the best thing for her. (Hunter 19-20). Typically, a church is to be a very safe and sacred place where no-one would imagine a bombing or any other type of violence to happen. What is ironic about this is that going to church turns out to be the worst place for her to be (Hunter 21). Something else that strikes me funny is that her mother dresses her in her daughter in her best clothes to go to church with her. What is ironic here is that she ended up wearing them to her funeral instead (Hunter 26). There is also a shift in dialogue here in the fifth stanza (Hunter 27). Here the narrator starts to take over. The narrator’s tone shows the reader the pride and joy that the mother takes in her child’s appearance (Hunter 29). It also gives the reader some sense of reassurance and cleanliness as the mother is brushing her daughter’s night-dark hair. She also dresses her in the same fashion (Hunter 36). She tries to dress her all in white, which is the symbol for purity. But no matter how hard the mother tries to have her daughter conform to the “whites”, they are ultimately the ones who kill her (Hunter 41). Something else that is ironic comes about in the sixth stanza. The mother smiled to know her child was in the sacred place, but that smile was the last smile to come upon her face. This gives the reader a sense of what is about to happen(Hunter 44). This stanza is ironic because if the mother thinks her daughter is going to be in a safe place, why would this be the last time she would ever smile?
The figures of speech that Randall uses in this poem also give the poem a touch of irony. He uses two types of figures of speech, and he uses them very well. First, he uses the metaphor. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which one thing is likened to another, different thing by being spoken of as if it were that other; implied comparison. He uses this in stanza five to hint to the reader that the child is an African American female (Hunter 47). He also uses it in stanza seven to show how angry, afraid and worried her mother gets when she hears the explosion. The other figure of speech that Randall uses is repetition. He uses the saying, “No, baby, no, you may not go”, in stanza two and then again in stanza four. This saying expresses the worries and fear that the mother has for her little girl.
Another big factor in this poem is the use of tone. First, there is a tone of innocence in the first stanza (Hunter 51). The young child tries to act nice and innocent to her mother, in the case that her mother might let her go to the march(Hunter 55). Secondly, there is the tone of concern for her child’s safety. Her mother tells her that there are dogs, clubs and hoses. These things were used on protesters and marchers to control the crowds when they grew too large and had gotten out of hand. Next, there is the tone of joy in the fifth stanza and in the first half of the sixth stanza. Her mother takes pride and joy in getting her daughter ready to go to church. She is also joyful that her daughter is going to church instead of going to the march (Hunter 59-61). But, if you notice, in the seventh stanza that tone of joy immediately turns to grief and loneliness. The move from the sixth to the seventh stanza is when the explosion occurs (Hunter 64). The mother doesn’t know what to do. The mothers tone in the last two lines of the poem gives the reader a feeling of grief and guilt. The word baby the mother uses implies the mothers affection for her lost daughter. I don’t know how, but for some reason her mother feels that something has happened to her child, so she runs through the streets of Birmingham, Alabama calling for her child. She clawed through bits of glass and brick, and then lifted out her child’s shoe. From this finding the mother knows that she has lost her daughter forever.
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