What Is the Mood of "The Ballad of Birmingham"?

Mood helps readers get a sense of the emotional vibe in a piece of literature. The setting, tone and language help create the mood, so readers understand the context of the poem or story. The poem "Ballad of Birmingham," written by Dudley Randall, tells the emotional plight a mother faces before and after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama. The tone changes slightly during the poem but supports an overall bleak, solemn and melancholy mood.

Apprehensive and Scared

The mood is serious. The first two quatrains have a mood that expresses sincere worry that the outside world is dangerous and unsafe for a young black girl. The mood is grim and grave, yet you hear the excitement in the young girl's voice. She's not afraid to face the bleak, violent, prejudiced world she lives in and hopes to support the cause of freedom. The mother's use of the words "the dogs are fierce and wild, and clubs and hoses, guns and jails aren't good for a little child" help establish the weighty, solemn and violent mood of the poem. The mother's fear and concern are genuine and justifiable.

Worrisome Yet Loving

The second pair of quatrains supports the overall serious mood but shows the mother's willingness to let her daughter venture out as long as it's into a safer, more predictable environment. The mood turns slightly more upbeat but retains strong somber undertones. The mother sees her daughter's optimism and hears her heart cry. She is pulled in two directions -- one that's sympathetic to her daughter's passionate fight for freedom and equality and another that fears for her safety. The mother offers an alternative that allows her daughter to socialize with her like-minded friends but in a less volatile environment -- "you may go to church instead and sing in the children’s choir."

Upbeat Turned Fatalistic

The fifth quatrain changes the mood to one that's more happy and cheerful, yet allows readers to sense the impending doom. Randall details the daughter's preparations for church attendance. "She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair and bathed rose petal sweet." However, the girl's innocence and beauty are quickly forgotten by the end of the sixth quatrain. A haunting and foreboding feeling that the poem will not end well lurks in the author's words. The mood is once again melancholy and deeply sobering.

Violent and Terrifying

The solemn mood takes a harsh turn in the final two quatrains. The mood changes to one of violence and alarming reality. The mother hears the explosions at her daughter's church and realizes that her life is in danger. Randall writes, "She raced through the streets of Birmingham calling for her child. She clawed through bits of glass and brick then lifted out a shoe." The mood is one of intense distress. However, the poem ends before readers are exposed to the mother's sadness over the loss of her child.

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