31 pages • 1 hour readFrank O'Hara
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Family dynamics form the heart of “Ave Maria.” The very first word of the poem is “Mothers,” alerting the reader to the idea that motherhood and mother-child relationships will play a large role in the story. The entire poem is a cautionary tale against a decaying family and a call to action so the reader won’t let it happen to them.
The speaker acknowledges the mothers by saying “it’s true that fresh air is good for the body” (Line 4) and later, “since you won’t have done anything horribly mean yet” (Line 29); we recognize that the mothers are not an enemy front but well-meaning, though sometimes misguided, women who are trying to do the best for their families. However, the poem cautions against these instincts because the result will be children who “grow old and blind in front of a TV set” (Line 34), begrudging the very people who tried to protect them.
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The speaker creates an image of the alternative choice: the child is “hanging around the yard / or up in their room / hating you” (Lines 26-28). The final line, “hating you,” seems to be a jump in intensity from the image of hanging around the bedroom, and yet it is this very jump in intensity the speaker is warning against—the way hatred and malice can sneak up on a family and ferment, becoming something greater than its parts.