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In the Park

The mother negatively depicted In the Park is a counter point to the dominant sacramental mother who is fulfilled and enriched by the procreation of children. The dominant motif of motherhood in artist history (Madonna and Child) usually emphasizes the positive aspects.  

Other works such a Euripides’  Revenger’s  Tragedy, Medea, first performed in 431 BCE, is every Family Court’s Judges’ worst nightmare.  Medea, falls in love with Jason of the Argonauts, betrays her father, the King Aeetes of Colchis and kills her own brother,  to help Jason claim the Golden Fleece, but is then abandoned in Corinth by Jason when King Crean has his daughter Glauce, seduce and marry Jason.  Medea, in vengeful spite manages to kill both Glauce and King Crean before resorting to filicide, killing their two sons, in retribution, before her flight to Athens.

Natural Law, the idea of a moral code integral to and inseparable from whatever it is that makes us human—is tested in the events of Medea when characters make decisions contrary to their nature, when Jason, a husband, abandons his wife or when Medea, a mother, murders her children. Medea's decision to kill her children, even as a form of retribution, was as shocking to the ancient Athenians as it is to us today. It was then, as it is now, considered a violation of Natural Law.

The Medea like disparaging of motherhood can be found in another of Harwood’s poems, Burning Sappho, written under one of her pseudonyms, Miriam Stone:

The clothes are washed, the house is clean. 
I find my pen and start to write. 
Something like hatred forks between 
my child and me. She kicks her good 
new well-selected toys with spite 
around the room, and whines for food. 
Inside my smile a monster grins 
and sticks her image through with pins. 

In the Park’s  choice of a sonnet form with a regular rhyme pattern ironically contrasts with the bleak flat monotone of a rather depressing frumpy view of motherhood. Harwood depicts the restrictions of women trapped in domesticity who develop a nagging feeling of life being wasted and that their children drain them of their youth.

The pejorative choice of words including the bland clichés trivialize and depreciate the role of the mother making her appear to be the loser in life while the “neat” head of the man appears positive and affirming.  

The truth could easily be inverted where he is childless, lonely and unfulfilled while she is cherished, valued and fulfilled by her family.  The perspective you choose to view it from determines the final consensus.  The image of “flickering light”  reinforces the ebbing hope she has for the future.


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