We Real Cool
The Issue of Growing Up Too Soon in We Real Cool
“Living fast” is something every kid wants. In the poem We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks, one main message is conveyed. One interpretation of We Real Cool is kids wanting to live fast and, sadly, end up dying at a young age. Gwendolyn Brooks was and still is, one of the most well-known poets because of her outstanding poems. Born on in Topeka, Kansas on June 7,1917, Gwendolyn Brooks wrote numerous poems which deal the everyday life of urban blacks. Brooks graduated from Wilson Junior College in Chicago in 1936. After, Brooks soon began writing her own literature. Some of her earliest versus were shown in a public newspaper, the Chicago Defender. This newspaper focused on Chicago’s African American community. African American herself, Brooks was the first black poet to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 on her series of poems known as Annie Allen. Later on in 1985, Brooks worked for Library of Congress consultant in the subject of poetry. In 1889, Gwendolyn Brooks received the prestigious achievement award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Further pursing her love for poetry and literature career, Brooks became a professor of English in 1990, at Chicago State University; the same friendly city she grew up in. Gwendolyn Brooks happily retained this job until her death on December 3, 2000, in Chicago. Brooks was a very inspiring role model and leader to the African American people during that specific time period. She created many works of literature that the entire urban African American society could relate and look up to. Some of Brook’s most famous stories and poems include: Maud Martha (1953), The Bean Eaters (1960), In The Mecca (1968), Primer for Blacks (1980), Young Poet’s Primer (1980), To Disembark (1981), The Near-Johannesburg Boy, and Other Poems, and many, many more.
The poem We Real Cool conveys the message of young kids living their life fast an end up dying early. In the first line of the poem, Brooks writes, “SEVEN POOL PLAYERS.” This indicates that the poem is about seven teenage pool players. Brooks also wrote all her poems about African Americans, so the teenagers in We Real Cool are most likely African American. The teenagers that are described in the poem are just like modern teenagers today: daring and risk-taking. The pool players believe that they are cool as stated in the third line of the poem, “We real cool. We.” Many kids today just worry about fitting in, instead of caring about their responsibilities as a kid. Whether it be getting good grades and keeping up in school, or doing your job at work and getting paid, some kids do not prioritize this as much as it should be. Instead of getting good grades and keeping up with work, kids may stay out late and just purposely not work on assignments because they think it is the “cool” thing to do.
In the fifth line of We Real Cool, Brooks states “We lurk late.” This demonstrates the kids are up to no good. I cannot really think of anything good that teenagers do when they “lurk late” at night. Dealing drugs, doing drugs, burglary, harassment, and many other criminal activities are most likely to take place at night. Most of the normal teenagers are doing homework, practicing sports, or eating dinner with their family late at night. Therefore, lurking late indicates that the teenage pool players are up to no good. Some kids even think that dropping out of school is something that classifies them as “cooler” than the kids who stay in school. Illustrated in the poem on line 4, “We left school,” signifies that the group of teenagers dropped out of school. Dropping out of high school at such an early age is almost always a sign of either laziness or rebellion. Dropping out of school is just one more indication that this group of seven teenage, pool players are up to no good in We Real Cool.
“We Strike straight,” is the sixth line in Brook’s poem. This “striking” could be translated as a few things. The most evident meaning is hitting, or abuse. Being that the teens were lurking late at night, harassment is a possible reference. Being that there is seven of the pool players, the “striking” could be a very lethal action. Large groups of rebellious teens usually tend to do more damage because of their numbers. Large numbers also tend to increase peer pressure; so, if six of the teens are doing drugs, they will heavily encourage the last one to follow them. If refused, that one kid will most likely be rejected and thrown out of the little group.
In the third stanza of We Real Cool, Brooks writes “We sing sin”. Brooks is indicating that the pool players are, once again, up to no good. Some of the most common sins include using the Lord’s name in vain, not honoring your mother and father, killing, and stealing. When picturing a group of defiant teenagers, these sins are exactly what comes to mind. Many teens use the Lord’s name in vain, usually without even realizing it. By dropping out of school, most teens have already sinned by not honoring their mother and father. Parent usually ant the best for their children and dropping out of high school is the exact opposite of their wants. Killing someone is a bit extreme in terms of just being teenagers, but depending on how the teens feel, they are inclined to do whatever the feel like; whether that be just rebelling against their parents or going to something as extreme and committing murder. Stealing is the most common sin among teenagers. Why? Because it is easy to do without getting caught or facing consequences. The risk-reward factor when it comes to stealing is usually very low risk and high reward. Depending of what is being stolen, many kids can easily steal something small and valuable, without anybody even knowing about it or who it was. In one of the last stanzas of the poem, Brooks writes “We thin gin” which is a reference to alcohol. In We Real Cool the poem is focused on teenagers, which means they are under the age of 21; and you must be at least 21 years old to drink alcohol. This is yet another reference to illegal activity. The last line of the poem states “We die soon”. This shows that Brooks knows the result if the teenagers live life like this. Instead of keeping up with their responsibilities, they rebel and do their own thing. As a result, they end up dying young because they tried to live life too fast.
In conclusion, We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks is a very meaningful work of literature. It conveys a message that was not only on popular in the 60’s, but modern day as well. One main literary device used throughout the poem is enjambment. This is when there is no punctuation and sentences carry on from one line to the next; this is illustrated well in We Real Cool. Another literary device present is alliteration. “Lurk late, strike straight, and sing sin,” are all very clear examples of Brook’s alliteration in the poem. My interpretation of We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks is that kids love living fast, but as a result, end up dying young. Instead of keeping up with their responsibilities, they choose to go their own rebellious path.
Gwendolyn Brooks’s Life Experience in the Bean Eaters and We Real Cool
The Life of Gwendolin Brooks
Born in June of 1917, Topeka Kansas, Gwendolyn Brooks grew up and lived in Chicago Illinois. Keziah Wilms Brooks was Gwendolyn’s mother, a teacher in Topeka. Working as a janitor, David Anderson Brooks was Gwendolyn’s father. He was also the son of a runaway slave. Brooks was the oldest of three children in her family. Her parents strongly supported her education. Already writing plays and poems as a child, Brooks was extremely ambitious. Published in Childhood Magazine in 1930, was Brooks’s first poem, “Eventide”. In an African American newspaper, the Chicago Defender, appeared many more of Brooks’s poems. Continuing to support Gwendolyn’s passion, her mother organized for Brooks to meet Langston Hughes and James Weldon Johnson, Harlem Renaissance poets.
Brooks graduated from Wilson Junior College in Chicago in 1930. After she trained in an African American poetry workshop, one created by Inez Cunningham Stark. In the 1940’s more of Brooks’s poems appeared in magazines; Harpers, Poetry, and The Saturday Review of Literature. Brooks had two children with Henry Blakely, who she married in 1938. They had Henry Blakely, Jr. in 1940 and Nora Blakely in 1951.
In the beginning, Brooks’s work depicted people’s lives who lived in Chicago’s South Side ghettos, describing settings from kitchenettes to pool halls. Being strong through tough times and closeness with family were a few positive parts in the lives of the poor that Brooks highlighted in her writing. She also wrote about African American servicemen who were still discriminated after risking their lives overseas. In 1950, she received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. President John F. Kennedy invited Brooks to read at a Library of Congress festival in 1962. In 1962, she was named Poet Laureate of Illinois, and in 1985, Poet Laureate Consultant of Poetry for the Library of Congress. The Black Position was released in 1971, a magazine created by Brooks. Brooks received the National Medal of Arts in 1995. Brooks taught at University of Wisconsin, Columbia, Elmhurst, Northeastern Illinois College, and Clay College of New York. When Brooks was fifty, after attending a conference for African American Writers, she set a goal to advance racial justice. From here is when her poetry became more political and bringing attention to racial discrimination. Due to heart problems, Gwendolyn Brooks died on December 3rd, 2000 (Terjesen [EBSCO]).
Gwendolyn Brooks’s life was filled with racism and poverty. Attending public school, she was discriminated by white classmates and lighter-skinned African-American classmates. In elementary school, Brooks focused on her lack of friendships rather than schoolwork. She was convinced that the other girls at school did not like her because her father was a janitor. To additionally support Brooks’s parents’ income, they rented out the second floor of their house. Brooks often felt upset and left out by the other girls. She started writing poetry about love, nature, and death in her notebooks. This made Brooks feel better about her problems in school. Brooks’s experience with poverty and racial prejudice are clearly reflected throughout her poems, particularly “The Bean Eaters” and “We Real Cool”.
The Bean Eaters
“The Bean Eaters” is said to be Brooks’s first poem to focus on racial identity. This poem represents the poverty and racism in Brooks’s life. As the the first stanza starts with, “They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.”. This relates to Brooks, as her family ate beans when money got low while she was a child. Another line of this poem that represents poverty is, “Dinner is a casual affair.Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,Tin flatware.””Casual affair” and the word “plain” gives the description of something ordinary. A simple and modest dinner the couple is having, in their “rented back room.” This is another quote from the poem that supports the idea that the poor elderly couple represents the poverty in Brooks’s life.
“Yellow pair” may be conveying an image of sickness and the elderly couple as ill with jaundice for example. It could also be describing the couple to be mixed race, neither fully African American nor Caucasian. Another struggle this couple may be going through is not feeling completely accepted to either community at the time. Being discriminated by both lighter skinned African-American and white classmates, the elderly couple represents Brooks not being accepted by her classmates.
The second stanza of “The Bean Eaters” focuses on how the couple lives on with their old age. “Two who are Mostly Good. Two who have lived their day. But keep on putting on their clothes And putting things away.” This section of the poem has a tone of judging the couple, claiming they are “Mostly Good”, suggesting possibly part of them is bad, too. This quote states the couple has already “lived their day”, but they “keep on” and that they will spend the rest of their lives only completing these everyday tasks. This opinion of the couple is not known to be the poets, another group, or people. Brooks may be writing about the judgement by other people in society, just as she felt as a child and in her life.
“Remembering, with twinklings and twinges” is the beginning of the last stanza. This line is about the couple remembering and reflecting back on their lives. Considering their living conditions now, it seems to be their lives have been lonely, with only each other to depend on. This is another way this poem represents the isolation Brooks felt being a dark-skinned African-American in her public schools with lighter skinned classmates. The last lines from the poem are,”That is full of beads and receipts and dolls””And cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.” These lines in the poem describe the couples home. It is filled with receipts and beads from celebrating holidays and purchasing things. The room also has tobacco crumbs, vases and “fringes” which give impression of an older and lived in home. Giving character and an image to the room supports the idea of the couple living for a long time and together. Including “dolls” in the line suggest the couple had children. Although, it does not seem like they visit frequently or have any connection at all. Society and their own children have turned their backs on the elderly couple. This represents the loneliness Brooks felt in her childhood by being rejected by fellow classmates (Labuzzeta [EBSCO]) (Gwendolyn Brooks [EBSCO]).
We Real Cool
Brooks’ experiences with racial prejudice and poverty are reflected in the poem, “We Real Cool.” This poem is spoken from the perspective of a group of poor, African-American (it is never specified that they are African-American, but it is generally believed that they are) urban youths hanging out a pool hall in Chicago in the late 1950s.
Brooks said in an interview that, when read aloud, the word “We” is supposed to spoken in a weak and non-affirmative tone. Almost each time the word “we” is used, it is used to begin a sentence at the end of a line, with the rest of that sentence coming in the next line, forcing the reader to hesitate. This repetition of a softly-spoken “we” enforces the idea that the young men have somewhat of a sense of group identity, but reveals that they are not confident with their identity and the situation that they are in. Coming from the perspective of a group of poor African-Americans in the 1950s, this shows a realization of the unfortunate situation that they have been put in simply because of their racial and economic standing. Yet despite these boys’ plight, the poem shows the assertion that their lives are just as meaningful as anyone else’s. Therefore, the speaker in the poem is representative of the large number of young African-Americans in the mid-20th century who felt that their lives had been stifled by poverty and racial prejudice. The repetition of the word “we” in this poem shows the solidarity that these people felt in the face of the great struggles they went through.
Brooks herself was one of these people, helping to inspire her to write “We Real Cool.” At public schools in Chicago, she endured discrimination from many of her classmates, and her family had to rent part of their house to supplement her parents’ income (Hinton and Day [EBSCO]). Brooks drew on these experiences as she wrote about the struggle of African-Americans in “We Real Cool.”In “We Real Cool,” Brooks portrays how life was seen as hopeless for many African-Americans in the mid-20th century. The poem ends with the phrase “We / Die Soon.” By ending the poem with this dark phrase, it shows the sense of hopelessness that Brooks believed many African-Americans felt due to the racial prejudice and poverty they experienced.
To deal with their harsh circumstances, the pool players in the poem place high value on meaningless activities. The poem says, “We / Lurk Late,” meaning that they spend lots of time hanging out in the pool parlor. It also says, “We / Sing gin. We / Thin gin.” To “sing gin” means to find sinful or immoral activities as pleasurable or good. “Thin gin” refers to drinking hard liquor. By taking pride in these activities (as they say, “We real cool.”), it shows that these young African-Americans have accepted their plight and taken to actions that will only make it worse. They have given up their means of advancing in society, such as education (as they say, “We / Left school.”), and turned to less valuable activities. By ending the poem with, “We / Die soon.” Brooks may be showing that for these people, death may have been seen as a way of escaping the harshness of reality, rather than as a truly tragic event (“We Real Cool: Gwendolyn Brooks, 1960” 243-245). Clearly inspired by the plight of African-Americans that she experienced in the real world, Brooks may have written in this style to inspire pity for those who suffered from nearly inescapable poverty and racial prejudice.
Gwendolyn Brooks’s life was filled with racial prejudice and poverty. Her writing clearly represented the struggles in her life, specifically “The Bean Eaters” and “We Real Cool”.
Poetry Analysis of We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks
There are countless methods that are applied in the field of writing in order to fully explain one’s thoughts. In the poem We Real Cool by Gwendolyn Brooks, there is a constant use of repetition and symbolism that takes place. Written in 1959, a time in which jazz was one of the more popular genres in music this poem was considered controversial for its portrayal of jazz as well as the characters within it. This poem while controversial was also an influence for African-Americans at the time during their civil rights movements. Through this poem there is this idea of imagery, symbolism, and many other literary devices that take place. With the devices in use, it is possible to deduce the historical significance and understand the author’s purpose for writing this poem.
Gwendolyn Brooks was an African-American writer that wrote many powerful pieces who in fact became the first woman of color to win a Pulitzer Prize. She was born in Kansas City but later moved to Chicago Illinois. Chicago at the time was slowly becoming the jazz capital of the country. The fact that jazz was such a prominent African-American music genre could very well have influenced Brooks in the creation of the poem, We Real Cool. This poem had a very controversial effect as it contained words such as jazz and contained themes that involved “negro culture.” The poem features a very different kind of wording as it sounds similar to the speech of a high school dropout.
The heading, “The pool players. Seven at the golden shovel,” could easily mean several things. It could be that the pool players are the characters and the number seven is just a direct reference to the seven deadly sins. Once noted that this is a possibility one can see that throughout the poem the characters are doing “sinful” acts or are simply being rebellious.
In the first two lines, “We real cool. We Left School.” This is already giving a basic introduction and background to the character’s mentality. There is already an immediate change in grammar from the heading and some repetition going on. In these stanzas, it sounds very similar to the belief that teenagers had that they were cool simply for skipping out on school. At the time this poem was written, playing hooky was a common thing and education wasn’t nearly as valued as it is today. Teens would constantly ditch school to go hang out with their friends or to do drugs or simply just sleep in. It could also mean that the characters not only skipped school, but they may have very well have just dropped out indefinitely. Once again supporting the idea that education was not valued especially during this time. “We Lurk late. We Strike straight,” already has given the impression that the characters are out and about late at night and are playing pool perhaps at a bar or something of the sorts. These characters should definitely not be there as it is not yet in their age group, however they have nothing to do with their time and instead just go out at night to play pool. Apart from this there could be the possibility that the words used in this could correspond to that of sexual predation. Lurking late could mean that they are simply just checking out girls similar to how an animal would stalk its prey.