Analysis: Mother in a Refugee Camp (Chinua Achebe)

02 Dec

Chinua Achebe’s Mother in a Refugee Camp, paints the pathetic picture of a mother holding her dying son in her hands for the last time, portraying both the inevitability of death and the pain of those whose loved ones have died yet they live on in a harsh light.

The poem starts with the poet comparing the scene of a mother holding her son in a refugee camp with the love and care which is usually depicted in all versions of Mary holding a ding Jesus in her arms. The poet state that none of the reputed depictions of tenderness could even come near the fragility and beauty of this scene of pathos and heartbreak. This foreshadows that the son in her arms is soon going to die, an idea which is confirmed by the third line which says that after laying her son beneath the earth, the mother would have to learn how to live life without him, and move on.

The next four lines describe the aura of disease, illness and death which surrounds the camp; describing the smells of the camp, and the ribs of the children protruding from sickness, painting a truly horrifying picture of sick infants and helpless people. Then Achebe goes on to say how other mothers no longer care, they can no longer cope with the struggle of surviving and now only await death. However this mother, who was mentioned earlier, do not fall into the same category. There is a remnant of a smile gracing her lips and she remembers her son in all his glory as she holds him for the last time. Her maternal pride had led her to clean him up before laying him to rest, and now she takes out a comb and with singing eyes, she arranges her son’s hair which is rust, a sign that he suffers from kwashiorkor; a protein deficiency. The relevant way in which she performs this act makes the poet reflect on how in normal day to day life, such an act holds no consequence to any mother; they do it before their sons leave for school. But the manner in which this mother does it has such an air of finality to it that it is akin to laying flowers on a tiny grave.

The poem is full of pathos and the agony of a mother who has to witness her child’s death in front of her eyes is made clear with the use of the initial comparison to the Holy mother Mary and Jesus. The finality of death is evident in this comparison even as the poet himself says that the tenderness of this scene in reality far outshines any that is depicted in all the versions of ‘Madonna and Child.’ Then the strong imagery which is used to describe the setting, the refugee camp, brings out the desolation surrounding the poem. Achebe evokes the sense of smell, sight and feeling to such an extent that tears spring to the reader’s eyes. The metaphor in the mother’s ‘humming eyes’ makes one sympathize with her plight.

No reason is given as to why the people are in a refugee camp. Perhaps there had been a war, or some sort of natural calamity, but Achebe has aptly described how such drastically the lives of those change who are forced to leave their home and take shelter, by focusing on one mother who is holding her dying child. The poem could also act as a testament to a mother’s love, who knows that the child is dead, yet continues to hold him with care and caution. She is not yet ready to let go and accept the fact that he is dead.

This poem touched my heart as it very delicately and subtly described the agony of losing a dead one which is I think the most difficult of struggles that people face in this world, especially those parents who have to see their young children die. It is sad, and depressing and heart breaking but I enjoyed it nevertheless.


Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Analysis of Poems.


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33 responses to “Analysis: Mother in a Refugee Camp (Chinua Achebe)

  1. kavera

    February 12, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Cool interesting

  2. Anon

    August 30, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    i wanted to ask as an IGCSE student will using similar ideas from this i dont mean all of it will count as copying or not using different words of course.

    • Jaynne

      November 8, 2012 at 2:20 pm

      of course that’s copying.
      this analysis is meant to mold you on how to get an answer close to this which would earn you marks. :]

  3. matt

    October 11, 2012 at 4:51 am

    i am so bored

    • Shakya

      October 20, 2012 at 5:28 pm

      Hey,Matt.You are of my kind.I think you are of my kind.Handsome,meet me sometime.We could do good with some sex.You are a boy,right?

    • jgcghk

      March 1, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      stupid matt

    • Juniper

      May 13, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      Then why are you here on the first place?!

  4. Shakya

    October 20, 2012 at 5:21 pm

    I copied the whole thing for my home work.I was sexy enough to do that


    November 2, 2012 at 2:22 pm


  6. Jaynne

    November 8, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    this is so interesting.

  7. Saad Rizan

    November 23, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    the poem was made in reference to the seperation of nigeria and biafra, and the severe conditions of the refugee camps. i am not sure, but i believe that achebe had first hand experienced this camp, and seen this mother

  8. Namitha

    January 29, 2013 at 1:46 pm

    thank you helped a lot 🙂

  9. Billy

    March 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm


  10. DJ

    March 23, 2013 at 5:22 am

    great analysis

  11. Student

    March 27, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Very useful, thanks.

  12. nondumiso nqobile

    August 6, 2013 at 10:08 am

    whats tha physical structure nd rhyme of ths pem…plz help

  13. Jesh

    August 16, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    My teacher is terrible so this really helps a lot! Thank you!! 🙂

  14. ncamie

    October 22, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    what is the theme of this poem

  15. drowningdaisies

    October 27, 2013 at 5:16 pm

    this is so useful thanks a lot!

  16. lindo goqo

    November 6, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    it is so sad but enjoyable.

  17. daRandomPerson

    February 22, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    wow so nice 🙂

  18. damilola

    March 19, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    this is useful. good for my homework


    March 23, 2014 at 9:15 am


  20. Alen

    April 23, 2014 at 9:40 am

    Thats a wonderful poem.


    May 11, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    missed structure but everything else is SWAGGG

  22. sandra neshuku

    July 24, 2014 at 9:28 pm

    great analysis helps alot nw i understand better

  23. nicky maloboka

    August 2, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    it is so touching

  24. salifu conteh

    August 25, 2014 at 9:47 am

    I wish to express my profound thanks for the guide on how to tackle poetry questions- it’s indeed a useful tool for literature students. I would also like to see a similar guide for prose and drama. Reply soon.

  25. Dylan Jenkins

    October 10, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    touched the deepest part of my heart

  26. beciera

    October 29, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Good ,this will help with my final examination on the fourth of November 2014.

  27. Krishna Datwani

    December 5, 2014 at 3:22 pm


  28. Ashley Macharos

    February 16, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks a bunch sugar, helped me a lot with my coursework. Gave me lots of new ideas. 😉 🙂

  29. Elxa

    January 6, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    i love your analysis its amazing. it has helped me in my coursework


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