Literary Analysis Of We Real Cool By Gwendolyn Brooks

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

“We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks is a Historical African American short poem that expresses in so few words the life of rebellious teenagers during 1959. Centered around a period when freedom for minorities started to become more relevant, Brooks’s poem explains how teenagers that she is observing while they play pool, while they should be at school seem to believe that they are rebellious teenagers. Although the poem is only 10 lines, you are able to get a clear description of the teenagers’ actions based on the rhythm of the poem. The rhythm of the poem sounds more like a chant “We real cool, We left school, we lurk late, we strike straight. We sing sin. We thin gin. We jazz June. We die soon”. Although the teenagers think they are being cool about their actions, they know themselves that it might lead to a series of unfortunate events. In the poem, Gwendolyn Brooks, the author, uses various devices to warn readers of the deadly consequences that rebellious behavior has for the teenagers in the poem.

In the poem, Brooks is able to make “we are cool” a catchy and unforgettable poem. Brooks is able to create such a poem by integrating many sound devices that create lines that rhyme found throughout the poem. “Brooks crafts the poem, however, to hint at an underlying coherence in the defiance. The intricate internal rhyme scheme echoes the sound of nearly every word. But the penultimate words of each line in each stanza also rhyme (cool/school, late/straight, sin/gin, June/soon)”. Clearly, when the group comes together, the attitudes of the teenagers change and become more defiant in their actions. By rhyming the next to the last words also, this groupthink gains even more power. Groupthink a term coin by Social Psychologist Irving L. Janis, that defines the word as putting your own personal beliefs or ideas aside to adopt the opinion of the rest of the group. With the poem having a great rhyming scheme it allows the poem to sound like a chant and catch the reader’s attention. Given the period where many African Americans face many problems from living in the slums to racism, many would reference songs or chants to come together. The reference to alliteration is created in lines three and four “We Lurk late. We strike straight”. The teenager’s mentions of lurking late create the idea of the teenagers robbing and damaging things at night with a sense of pride. Using alliteration makes the actions more appealing.

Brooks also used other devices to create the idea that some teenagers quit going to school because of the image of looking cool. The group is about to indulge in dangerous activities which can result in making wrong decisions that lead to death or imprisonment. Located throughout the whole poem primarily within the first two lines “We real cool, We Left school”. With the poem having a chant-like tone, the teenagers seem to be satisfied with their decision and not to worry about consequences. Brook founds a unique way to use “We” to bring the bond between these seven teenagers. “Additionally, the fact that the seven always identify themselves as ‘We’ indicates that each one has sacrificed his or her individual identity for the sake of being part of the group”. Stated previously the teenagers knew that the decisions made to drop out of school also included changed their identity, with only having each other to rely on, identifying as “we” creates a togetherness. By reading the poem out loud you can see the unity of the word “we” become less powerful as the poem started to get close to the end. As the last line states “We die soon” you can see that the teenager might realize that their decisions made throughout the poem lead them to the reality that it might come to the end with death or losing themselves completely.

The Imagery and symbolism in the poem can be seen at the beginning of the poem. As you begin to read, you are able to get a visual of the seven teenagers playing pool, having fun laughing in a bar. The teenagers like to stay out late and partake in dangerous activities “We lurk late”. The name of the pool hall is Golden Shovel. “Shovel” is a metaphoric word that might indicate that the teenagers might be digging their own graves. The ending of the poem ends with “We die soon” that if the teenagers do not change their ways they might die because of their careless actions. The pool game can also represent the coolest of the teenagers. The placing of the poem can create a scene about how young African American teenagers grow up in the inner city. Imagery is created throughout the entire poem. Especially lines 4-6 “We sing sin. We thin gin. We jazz June”. One critic has suggested that “Jazz June” includes a sexual image and that “Die” carries an old Renaissance metaphor for a sexual climax, but this interpretation may strike some readers as strained and out of place. The sexual revolution of the 1960s is relevant to this poem because of how the sex culture begins to become popular, teenagers being the ones to partake in these activities the most, the reference made by Brooks can closely represent sexual images.

“The poem is an elegy for thousands of young black men whose growth has been stifled by prejudice and its resulting poverty and social confusion”. Brooks explains to the youth that there is a need to stay away from activities that can put their life in jeopardy. The youth should focus on things that will help better their future no matter the circumstances the individual might be facing. The devices that Brooks used are to discourage the youth from activities that are typically for older and mature adults. “We real cool” although short, is a powerful poem. Brooks’ ability to connect with teenagers and give a warning that every decision could change everything in your future is a powerful way to end the poem.

Works cited

  • Hinton, Rebecca Stingley, and Frank Day. “We Real Cool.” Magill’s Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition, Sept. 2006, p. 1. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mjh&AN=103331MSA15169830000515&site=ehost-live.
  • Sarnowski, Joe. ‘Critical Essay on ‘We Real Cool’.’ Poetry for Students, edited by Mary Ruby, vol. 6, Gale, 1999. Gale Literature Resource Center, https://link-gale-com.ezproxy.rose.edu/apps/doc/H1420043021/LitRC?u=odl_rosesc&sid=LitRC&xid=e254df18. Accessed 23 Feb. 2020.
  • Werner, Craig. “Gwendolyn Brooks.” Critical Survey of Poetry, Second Revised Edition, Sept. 2002, pp. 1–6. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mjh&AN=103331CSP10840168000509&site=ehost-live.


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