In this poetry analysis, Erwin Cabucos explains how the poetic devices of persona, imagery, allusion and intertextuality work together to illuminate the theme of reconciliation.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poem ‘Son of Mine’ explores the Black and White racial relation in Australian society, reflecting on the grim history within that relation and suggesting for a more optimistic future for the new generation. Written by an Aboriginal activist Oodgeroo Noonuccal in light of her concerns for the children with Aboriginal Australian heritage, especially her 13-year-old son Denis, ‘Son of Mine’ uses the techniques of persona, imagery, allusions and rhyme to effectively highlight the message that embraces reconciliation as the most preferable option for a brighter tomorrow.
The presence of a persona or speaker as a parent is evident from the onset, communicating his or her thoughts and feelings on another character – the son. Through the parent persona, the son is given an identity: ‘black skinned’ in line 4, typifying an Aboriginal person, and ‘as soft as velvet shine’ in line 4, a simile, referring to the many Aboriginal children with such descriptions. The persona is non-gendered to represent the number Aboriginal parent who many express the same optimistic aspirations.
The persona is used in order to tell a narrative regarding the decision-making involved on what kinds of historical knowledge should be taught or inculcated on children. The parent’s rhetorical question ‘what can I tell you, son of mine?’ in line 5 highlights the favourable character of the speaker deciding to prioritise the history about the ‘brave’ and the fine’ over that stories of ‘heartbreaks’, ‘the crimes’ and the ‘maligns’ in lines 10, 6 and 7, illuminating the campaign for a reconciliatory preference for the future.
Allusion is powerfully used in this poem, referring to the social and cultural turmoil experienced by Aboriginal Australians. ‘Heartbreak, hatred blind’, ‘crimes that shame mankind’, ‘brutal wrong and deeds malign’, ‘rape and murder’, in lines 5 through to 9, synthesise the myriad of atrocities the Aboriginal people endured since the white settlement, including, loss of ancestral land, massacre of tribes, rape of women and removal of children from parents (Stolen Generation). One only needs to read Kate Grenville’s novel ‘The Secret River’ or see Phillip Noyce’s ‘The Rabbit Proof Fence’ to understand the chilling events that explore the dark parts of Australian history. However, the poem’s underlying wisdom is contained in its optimistic mood. The speaker chooses to dwell on the positive future – reconciliation – to see a time “when lives of black and white entwine, and when in brotherhood combine” (lines 12 and 13).
The use of rhyme softens the seriousness of the subject matter: racism and prejudice. The rhyming occurs in each line: for example, ‘Mankind’, ‘malign’, ‘mine’, ‘fine’, ‘entwine’, creating a sense of musical lulling to a child, like a mother with a lullaby to her child. This Madonna-like reading of the poem is demonstrated by the implied action at the start of the poem where the mother gazes to her son as she speaks: ‘Your troubled eyes search mine.’ Furthermore, it is also worthy of noting the possible signification of the 13 lines of the poem, the three quatrains, reminiscent of the twelve apostles, the companions of Christ, as well as the repetition of the word ‘Son’ occurring three times, an allusion, a stark reminder to the notion of Trinity in the Christian tradition wherein the concept of reconciliation is almost synonymous to the dogma of salvation. They illuminate the redemptive effect of the poem, achieved through reconciliation, not vengeance.
Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poetry ‘Son of Mine’ reflects on the difficult past between Black and White Australians, and it invites readers to opt for a more humane and favourable response towards a positive future. The poem has a message to those who have parental role in society, similar to the speaker modelled in the poem: the tribal elders, the government officials, the lawmakers or community leaders to imbue similar spirit to the new generation.
List of references
Grenville, K. (2005), ‘The Secret River’, Melbourne: Text Publishing
Noonuccal, O. (2020), ‘Son of Mine’ in poetrylibrary.edu.au, citing original publication from the book ‘Dawn Is At Hand’, downloaded on 21 October 2020
Noyce, P. (2017) ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’, Apple Movies, http://www.apple.com
The Vatican, (2020), ‘Part 1 Profession of Faith’, Catechism of the Catholic Church, http://www.vatican.va, downloaded on 21 October 2020
How to reference this article?
Cabucos, E. (2020), ‘The Theme of Reconciliation in Oodgeroo Noonucall’s “Son of Mine”,’ from sayaeducation.com, downloaded on this date.