The Author’s Use Of Literary Devices In We Real Cool
Unfortunately, it is common for many individuals, particularly young people, to be drawn to the ‘wrong crowd’ and to make poor decisions at different points of life. Fortunately, the majority of these individuals who are drawn to the wrong crowd, or who are themselves the wrong crowd, at one point or another can typically develop enough maturity and intelligence eventually stray away from participating in such irresponsible and juvenile acts in order to lead successful lives. However, what about the individuals that never grow up? It is a true and unfortunate fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are unable to pull themselves out of the wrong crowd and who wasted time away while life falls apart. The poem ‘We Real Cool’ written by Gwendolyn Brooks tells the story of just such a group of individuals who have made a series of poor decisions, ultimately leading to their premature deaths.
Gwendolyn Brooks, an African-American Poet born on June 7, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas, is an accomplished writer whose works primarily detailed the struggles and triumphs of the people who lived in her community. At just six weeks old, Brooks’ family moved to Chicago, Illinois, which was pivotal to her writing career. As a child growing up in Chicago during the Great Depression, it is likely that she lived in, witnessed, and experienced a bleak and seemingly hopeless environment, which undoubtedly influenced her writing. This is especially evident in ‘We Real Cool,’ a poem that tells the story about a group of unemployed boys who tragically die sooner than expected. In the poem, Brooks tells of kids who drop out of school, stay out too late, drink frequently, and ‘die soon.” At a surface level, Brooks effectively tells a moving ballad in four short stanzas. These boys she tells of in the poem are actually childish men, and are perfect examples of the choices presented to readers in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” As the title of Brooks’ poem suggests, these young men believe that they are being cool in the poor decisions that they are making, when in reality they have simply chosen to submit to poor choices and run away from living a meaningful life. They have chosen to go on the easier road, following their peers, the wrong crowd, into a life that is even inferior to mediocrity.
As the reader delves deeper, this poem reveals itself to being about living life in the fast lane and its consequences. Perhaps the poem is not just a story, but also a lesson about the consequences of young people choosing to ignore responsibilities as maturity and adulthood approaches and looms ahead. Although there are notable differences in plot and characters, one may notice themes in this poem to be similar to those found in J.M. Barrie’s ‘Peter Pan,’ a story that had its popular movie based on the text released only a few years before ‘We Real Cool’ was published. ‘Peter Pan’ introduces audiences to the classic fictional Neverland characters Peter Pan and his crew of The Lost Boys who spend their entire lives outrunning adulthood, while Brooks masterfully shows that the real world does not work in the same way. The young men in her poem are analogous to Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, but unfortunately, they are far from immortal, and must face the consequences of their prolonged childhood. Tragically, the most severe part of the consequences involves untimely death.
Brooks orchestrates effective application and literary devices and strategies. In each stanza of the poem, every word is connected. In the first line, the repetition of a long “e” sound is a technique called assonance; furthermore, Brooks repeats the “l” sound in “real” and “cool,’ masterfully applying another technique known as consonance. Moving on to line two, Brooks connects ‘left’ and ‘school’ with the “I” sound that they both share with a literary device known as slant rhyme. In line two, the “l” sound is used yet again in alliteration with the word ‘lurk” and “late” from line three. Alliteration is also used in line four with the words ‘strike’ and “straight,’ in lines five and six with “sin’ and ‘Thin,’ and the ‘j’ sound in the word “gin” is repeated in the words “Jazz” and “June.” “June” also forms a basic rhyme with the word “soon” in line eight. This use of literary devices conveys the message and meaning of the poem further.
One may wonder why the use of rhythm and rhyme or literary devices matter at all in the writing of the poem. Again, literary devices bring richness, clarity and life to the writing. Interestingly, there is, however, one word in the entire poem that does not correlate to any other word, that word being “die.” This word is completely independent from all other words in the poem; perhaps this singular use of the word ‘die’ is symbolic of how death is an unexpected and foreign event in the lives of Brooks’ characters, just as the word ‘die’ is to the words in the rest of the poem. This strongly emphasizes how the characters’ poor decisions and lifestyle choices led to death.
After digesting the contents of the poem, one may ask themselves, “Am one of these juveniles in Brooks’ piece?” The vast majority of people are not sitting in pool halls, drinking whiskey and staying out late every night. However, there is a pitiful laziness within everyone who has ever been born; a laziness that is either drowned out by a desire for purpose in life, or fed happily with gluttony, lust, greed, pride, envy, and sloth (also known as the seven deadly sins). Brooks’ certainly did not write such a poem to inform her readers of how superior they are to her characters, but to warn them of the dangers of being a follower, accepting complacency, and embracing sin.
In summary, poet Gwendolyn Brooks uses her literary skill to tell a story of a group of young men frantically running from their oncoming adult lives, eventually finding themselves to be living so recklessly that they meet their demise early. Brooks uses this ballad to teach her readers that although it may seem that one can escape the burdens of responsibility, this is only temporary, and one cannot outrun their own mortality.
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