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My Critical Analysis of
Robert Hayden's "The Whipping"

Robert Hayden’s “The Whipping” is a well-written poem. He effectively uses different literary techniques to create different emotions in his readers. This poem is about a young boy who is being beaten with a stick by an overweight woman. A neighbor, the narrator, remembers back to his past while he watches what is going on. I believe that this poem creates a sense of pity in the reader. Some readers may feel sorry for the boy who is being beaten; other may feel sorry for the woman who is full of rage; and still others may feel pity for the neighbor who has to be reminded by the boy’s beatings of painful childhood memories.

The first and foremost character who receives the reader’s pity is the young boy who is getting beaten. Hayden uses imagery to give the reader a better feel for what is going on. He uses sight and sound imagery. The words “crashes, ”pleads,” and “shrills.” With the use of these words I could almost see a vivid picture of what was happening. Hayden furthers the visual imagery by telling of the different plants the boy is running through trying to get away from the enraged woman who is beating him.

For many readers, the woman who is beating the young boy is hated for what she is doing to him, but there are some that could feel sorry for her. In the first stanza, Hayden wrote that the woman was “shouting to the neighborhood her goodness and his wrongs.” The women is trying to let others in the neighborhood know that she is not just beating the boy out of spite; she wants on-looking people to know that she is in the right, and the boy has done wrong. The narrator lets the reader know that the lady is seeking vengeance the hidden things the woman has had to bear for most of her life. After doing what the woman thought was right, Hayden gives a vivid image of the exhausted woman leaning against a tree trying to recollect herself.

The third character who could possibly be the recipient of the reader’s pity would be the on-looking neighbor. Not only is this person having to witness such an atrocity and not be able to do anything about it, the sight of this poor boy being beaten by this enraged woman brings back bad memories of the past. The poem indicates that the narrator was beaten as a child as well. The line “the face that I no longer knew or loved…” leads me to believe that the person that was beating the narrator was a parent or some other person who at one time the narrator loved and looked up to. This by itself makes me feel sorry for what the narrator went through as a child, but to be reminded of this by the watching the other boy being beaten makes the experience worse than if he had not be subject to that as a child. Not only is the narrator reminded of bad times by watching this scene of the woman and the boy, this has happened on other occasions so the narrator is constantly being reminded. This, to me, makes the narrator one of the best candidates as the recipient of pity.

It is easy to see that Hayden wanted the reader to feel sorry for someone. I believe that it greatly depends on the reader as to which character they feel sorry for. For someone who may have been beaten as a child, it would be easier to identify with the boy who is being beaten as well as the neighbor who must witness these beatings. If someone had emotional scars that they were not able to tell anybody about and needed to fine some other way to release their pent-up rage and hurt, they may be able to relate to the women who is administering the beatings. In any case, everyone who reads this poem will feel sorry for at least one, if not all three characters.

Other Points-of-View

Robert Hayden









Literary Terms

-Unreliable Narrator: a narrator whose report a reader cannot accept at face value, perhaps because the narrator is naive or is too deeply implicated in the action to report it objectively
-Character: peron in a literary work
-Blank Verse: unrhymed iambic pentamer-that is, unrhymed lines of ten syllables, with every second syllable stressed
-Pentameter: a line of verse containing five feet