Dear Mama: An Ode to a Black Queen 

“Dear Mama,” is a hip-hop song written and performed by Tupac Shakur in his 1995 album, “Me Against the World.” Tupac Shakur was a well-known rapper, poet, actor, and activist during the golden age of hip-hop in the 1990s. Tupac was well-versed in poetic form and social issues. His mother was a former member of the Black Panther Party, a black-power political movement in the 60s and 70s, and he learned about political history from a young age. As a teen, Tupac was part of a special performing arts program in his high school, where he studied poetry, jazz, and music and acted in Shakespearean plays. In addition to his well-known hip-hop albums, he published a collection of haikus and a book of poetry. The influence of his formal training in poetry and his political awareness is visible in the lyrics and form of “Dear Mama.” Tupac uses form, chronological organization, and imagery to construct an ode of recognition and forgiveness to his mother, who struggled as a single parent with drug addiction to raise him and his sibling. In the song, he wants his mother to know that he appreciates her and understands the struggle she went through, despite the challenges it made him face as a child.

Tupac wrote “Dear Mama” in the classic form of an ode, with strophes, anti-strophes, and an epode. A strophe is a storytelling stanza, an anti-strophe is a repeating chorus, and an epode concludes and summarizes the poem. Tupac used the following form:

  • Strophe x 4
  • Antistrophe 
  • Strophe X 4
  • Antistrophe
  • Strophe X 2
  • Epode.

The strophes generally tell stories of his childhood, while the anti-strophes offer a refrain of recognition of his mother, and the epode focuses on his reflections and forgiveness. By using the form of an ode for his song, Tupac reinforces the idea that his song is a celebration of his mother and a recognition of what she sacrificed for him.

Tupac also organizes his poem in chronological order, starting with memories of his early childhood, and ending with the present moment, to demonstrate his reflective perspective and forgiveness. At the beginning of the song, he reflects on moments when he went through a hard time. For example, he remembered when he ran from the police and his mother punished him: 

And runnin’ from the police, that’s right

Mama catch me, put a whoopin’ to my backside

Towards the end of the song, Tupac switches back to the present day, as he’s writing the song, and looks back on his memory with forgiveness, understanding the struggle she went through to raise him:

But the plan is to show you that I understand

You are appreciated

When Tupac moves from his past and present self, he creates a contrast between his childhood understanding of his experiences and his present understanding of his experiences within the larger systems of oppression in poor communities. He demonstrates a critical understanding that the fault of his mother’s behavior was not entirely individual, but due to larger social forces at play. 

Finally, Tupac uses a back-and-forth between positive and negative imagery of small childhood moments to illustrate the complex relationship he had with his mother, feeling her love, yet wishing, as a child, for more. For example, there are several negative images early on in the song, such as::

it was hell

Huggin’ on my mama from a jail cell

Later, his mental images turn more positive: 

And I could see you comin’ home after work late

You’re in the kitchen, tryin’ to fix us a hot plate

Toward the end of the song, he emphasizes his positive memories: 

And all my childhood memories

Are full of all the sweet things you did for me

These switches show a maturing attitude towards his mother, both understanding and appreciating her, through sifting through the childhood memories in his head and ending up focusing on the positive. 

Tupac uses his complex knowledge and skillset to construct a song that sends a message through both its form and its imagery. As an ode, listeners are already primed to understand this is a song of recognition. Yet, Tupac makes the song more complex by showing both the good and the bad, perhaps summed up best in his lines:

And even as a crack fiend, Mama

You always was a black queen, Mama

I finally understand

For a woman it ain’t easy tryin’ to raise a man

These contrasts between good and bad heighten the listener’s awareness of Tupac’s internal struggles with forgiveness and love for a Black Queen.

Belonging Vs. Individualism

The Stranger complicates ideas about whether it is right or wrong to conform to societal norms, how it affects others’ lives, and how individuals experience the consequences of their choices. The use of a character such as Meursault, whose lack of belief puts him at the furthest end of non-conformity to social norms, allows Camus to test questions about individuality and belonging by placing Meursault in different moral venues and examining the consequences of his actions.

Meursault’s relationship with Raymond demonstrated how non-belief can be harmful to others. On the other hand, Meursault’s relationship with Marie demonstrated how non-belief could be beneficial to others. The court scene showed the community’s moral judgment of his character, and the pre-execution scene showed the impact of his stance on himself. Hence, Camus does not offer one right answer to the conflict between belonging and individuality, rather, he uses a story to pose questions for debate and exploration. Through offering a series of moral encounters, Camus forces the reader to reflect upon their own stances to make a judgment on Meursault’s character.

The Paradox of Connection: Anonymity and True Selfhood in the The Secret Woman

The short story, The Secret Women, explores how anonymity creates a paradox of connection: it allows people to disconnect from others (on a personal level) and to connect with a larger group of people at the same time. In the story, a man and his wife attend the same party in secret from each other. They go to the party in costumes so that they can be anonymous and disconnected from their personal lives. At the party, people are engaging in intimate physical acts, however, since everyone is in costume, no one has any real love for eachother; the hooking up is all surface level. The narrator of the story describes the way that the man’s wife feels after hooking up with someone:

She was going to leave the next moment, wander about once more, collect some other passer-by, forget him, and simply enjoy, until she felt tired and went back home…

(Collette 331)

Although the anonymity of the party shields the guests from true intimacy, it allows them to express hidden aspects of themselves and their desires. The narrator adds that the wife felt the “monstrous pleasure of being alone, free, honest and crude, native state of being the unknown woman” (Collette 331).

The paradox of connection in the story is similar to what happens in the realm of the internet. Recently, I read part of a book by social media scholar Sherry Turkle, called “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.” In the book, Turkle makes the argument that the anonymity of the internet has made people think that they are more connected, yet, when it comes down to friendships and meaningful relationships, people are less connected. She writes,

Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other.

(Turkle 1)

This alludes to experiences of anonymity in the Secret Woman of being alone and free while at the same time interacting with many different people. This poses an interesting question: is it possible to be our true selves on the internet and/or is it possible to be our true selves with our most personal friends and partners in real life?

Work Cited

Colette. The Secret Woman. Date unknown.

Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Basic Books, New York, 2011.

Out from the Shadows: How Saunders’ “The Semplica Girl Diaries” Forces us to Face the Exploitation of Immigrants in Society

In The Semplica Girl Diaries by George Saunders, Semplica Girls (SG’s) are immigrants that hang on a wire as ornaments in wealthy homeowners’ lawns, including that of the narrator, as signs of status and wealth. The underlying message of the story suggests that we should make visible the ways that immigrants support the lifestyles and economy of the wealthy and humanize them by building mutual recognition/respect.

Saunders shocks his audience when he reveals the conditions of the SG’s. For example, he explains how the SG’s are hanging multiple feet in the air, swaying in the breeze:

We step out. SGs up now, approx. three feet of ground, smiling, swaying in a slight breeze. Order, left to right: Tami (Laos), Gwen (Moldova), Lisa (Somalia), Betty (Philippines) 

pg. 133

While it’s almost unthinkable to have people working in conditions like this: wires strung through their heads, swinging in the wind, Saunders brings to light an inescapable truth: most immigrants today are exploited and mistreated in their workplaces, yet done so in the shadows. Take for example, sweatshop workers that make ‘fast fashion,’ hotel housekeepers, and migrant farmworkers. 

The narrator’s daughters seem to be the only members of the family that recognize the humanity of the SGs.  Lily interviews the SGs and creates a poster about their real lives:

Gwen (Moldova) = very tough due to Moldovian youth…. Lisa (Somalia) once saw a lion on the roof of her uncle’s “mini-lorry”….”Fun Fact”: their names (Betty, Tami, et al.) not their real names. These= SG names given by Greenway.

pg. 166

In getting to know them, Lily and Eva create what psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin would define as ‘Mutual Recognition,’ or, the idea that we look for the common traits between us rather than what’s different. In other words, they humanized the SGs. This compels Eva to free the SGs. I connected to this part of the story after my experience working in a restaurant and befriending several immigrants working behind the scenes in the kitchen. After hearing their stories, I felt compelled to help them as well. Immigrants are often villainized in our society, but Saunders’ story helps us to see the importance of humanizing them, making their stories visible, and being more inclusive.