The Poem “Ballad of Birmingham” organized by Dudley Randall is fundamentally about a young female wrapped in discussion with her mother in a discussion about her mobility inside the downtown. The mother stands firm on her stand about the freedom of a young and little lady as her kid. She claims it is extremely dangerous and she can attend church instead of wandering in the downtown. The thriller and complexity of the events which unfolded when the young girl met her demise left many amused (Barker).
Themes and Symbolism
The mention of clubs, dogs, guns, hoses and jails in the second stanza symbolize the brutal police who occasionally shattered the Freedom Marches. Instead of directly mentioning the affected officers directly, Randall inks them with the tools and equipment which are used to stop events of marches. It is a rhetorical case referred as metonymy. The scenario puts the officers as if they are not typical individuals but an eminent force of violence and repression in the poem.
To the mother, the mention of the police is a danger to her little girl child, and the tools are symbols of this particular threat. Later in the poem, stanzas 7 and 8, the church rubble is a symbol of violence as a result. These violent images serve as reminders that even the innocent and unarmed were not safe or spared from the deadly and titanic effects of racism.
In stanza 5, the young girl dresses in all white as she prepares to attend a church service. The color is a symbol of her purity and innocence and most notably the respect she had for the church. The girl is keen to present herself in the church as clean as possible. This goes contrary to the normality of young juveniles who do not mind matters of cleanliness. In stanza 7, the white shoe is the only thing the girl’s mother can recover (Randall). Randall wants to subject the readers in the destroyed purity image to insist and recapture the events of the bombing tragedy.
Theme of Race
“Ballad of Birmingham” encompasses on an American history which saw many Americans wish for their elimination. Segregation gathered pace, and it was legalized in some parts of the south. Therefore, African Americans were blockaded from many institutions, businesses, and systems of public transport. At the opening of the poem, a young girl who is a black American begs for permission to join marches against these laws. “And march the streets of Birmingham in a Freedom March today?” (3-4)
Dudley Randall utilizes irony to depict how the regime of the Jim Crow in the South converted the safest destinations like church grounds to be very inhumane and dangerous. The poem also uses the tool of irony to heighten the 1963 Birmingham bombing tragedy. The 5th and 7th stanza describes the dressing effect of the daughter and the absolute happiness her mother harbors considering her daughter is in a “sacred place.” The final two stanzas, however, overturn the mother’s trust and vehemently misplace it. The bomber targeting a church is a manifestation of total irony since a church is always made to be a holy, safe and hospitable place. Another element of imagery is in line 6 “for the dogs are fierce and wild.” The imagery in this line is used to create a mental picture of the hostility and violence which is usually attached to the cry for freedom.
Figures of Speech
The figures of speech used by the author added weight the tool of irony. He uses the services of two types of speech figures. The manner in which they are used is tremendous. Firstly, he employs the metaphor figure of speech. The metaphor is a speech figure within which an individual resembles with another; an implication of comparison. In stanza five he uses a metaphor to hint to the audience about the racial background of the child which was an African American female. In stanza seven, the metaphor is used to show the intensity of fear, hunger, and worry on the wake of the news about the explosion which caught her daughter captive. Repetition is the other figure of speech which Randall uses is repetition. He uses the quote, “No, baby, no, you may not go,” precisely in stanza two and stanza four. The wording of this quote showed the level of worries and fear which engulfed the mother due to the potential condition of her daughter.
Barker, Jani. “Racial Identification and Audience in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963.” Children’s Literature in Education 41.2 (2010): 118-145.
Randall, Dudley. Ballad of Birmingham – On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Broadside Press, 1968.
Wile, Elise. Symbolism in “The Ballad of Birmingham”. 30 October 2017