An Analysis of Ballad of Birmingham, a Short Story by Dudley Randall

Last Updated: 28 Feb 2023
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In "Ballad of Birmingham," Dudley Randall illustrates a conflict between a child who wishes to march for civil rights and a mother who wishes only to protect her child. Much of this poem is read as dialogue between a mother and a child, a style which gives it an intimate tone and provides insight to the feelings of the characters. Throughout the poem the child is eager to go into Birmingham and march for freedom with the people there. The mother, on the other hand, is very adamant that the child should not go because it is dangerous. It is obvious that the child is concerned about the events surrounding the march and wants to be part of the movement. The child expresses these feelings in a way the appears mature and cognizant of the surrounding world, expressing a desire to support the civil rights movement rather than to "go out and play." The desire to no longer be seen as a child and have her voice heard by those being marched against and by her mother (who can also be seen as an oppressive form of authority in this poem) is expressed by the first few lines. The opinion of the child is much like that of all young people who want to fight for their freedom.

The mother, however, refuses to acknowledge the child as anything but a child is a major conflict in this poem. Because she refers to her as "child" and calls her "baby," it is clear that the mother does not take the child's pleas seriously. The mother is certain that she knows what is best for her child and that the child's feelings and ideas are unimportant. The way that she brushes off the child's request with a statement of how the march is not "good for a little child" shows the mother's inability to see her daughter's desire to go march as anything more than a childish fancy. The mother's attitude toward the march is an unreasonable fear for her child's safety, a state of mind that alludes to her detachment from the events and opinions that fuel the march. When compared to that of the child, the mother's approach to the march is that of one who is uninformed and unconcerned.

The mother's detachment and idealism lead her to believe that the church is the safest place for her child. She feels that upon entering the church, the child will be removed from the world around her and the violence that engulfs it. This also points to the mother's belief that remaining oblivious to the source of the civil unrest will make them disappear. When she tells the child to go to the church, she is in effect showing her feelings that attending church is the important thing to do and that the problems of the world outside will be resolved without any further effort.

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When the mother sends her child off to church, she brushes her hair, bathes her, and puts white shoes and gloves on her. This effort put into creating an image of beauty and peace in her child shows that the mother is trying to forget about the suffering of the people who are fighting for freedom that she is doing nothing to aid. When she sees her child this way, she feels that she has hidden all of her dangerous thoughts away under this façade. What the mother is really concerned with at this point is putting her own mind at rest from the troubling thoughts that her child is in danger from not only the world around her but from her own desire to become involved in the changes of the world.

When the bomb goes off in the church, many changes happen inside the mind of the mother. At this point she realizes that she was wrong in her opinions and decisions. First, she knows that her child is in danger. The fact that there is no safe place for her to keep her child must come as a shocking revelation to a mother who was unwilling to see how completely a controversial situation had overwhelmed her world. With this sudden realization comes the breakdown of her belief that she could raise her child in a sheltered environment, letting the dangerous events of the world pass by unnoticed. When she runs to find her child, she still holds to her ideals. She cannot accept the truth of the situation, as she is unwilling to accept the fate of her child even when she finds her shoe amidst the rubble of the church.

"The Ballad of Birmingham" deftly illustrates the dangers of looking at the world through a window. It shows that the solutions to the problems that engulf the world come not by avoiding the troubles but by becoming educated about such problems and involvement in the issues surrounding them.

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An Analysis of Ballad of Birmingham, a Short Story by Dudley Randall. (2023, Feb 24). Retrieved from

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