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We Real Cool Poetry Analysis

In: English and Literature

Submitted By cgantuah
Words 1368
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Gantuah 2 Carl Gantuah
Professor Thompson
ENWR 106
March 9th, 2015
Tarnished Gold Chicago poet Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African- American female poet to win the Pulitzer Prize and went on to serve as the U.S Poet Laureate from 1985-1986. Among Brooks’ many works is the short poem; “We Real Cool” which sums up the reality that youths will have to face if they lose school. “We Real Cool” was written during the Civil Rights Movement in 1959, a period of great segregation. In 1954 the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to segregate schools in the case of Brown vs Board of Education, however segregation was still prominent in society and this frustrated many African- Americans. Aside from separation, the effects of Segregation caused a lot of black youths to lose sight of their role in society and what it meant to have a bright future. By being told that they do not belong numerous times, being victims of prejudice and being treated as inferior they began to impact their outlook on life. Consistently being told that they have no future led youths to believe that it was nothing more than a false pretense, as seen in the boys who seem to be struggling with identity. Anyone who has ever played hooky can relate to “We Real Cool”, instead of attending school seven young men decide to hang out at a bar and play pool. Brooks is attempting to send a message through her poem and she accomplishes this through the use of symbolism and word choice. According to Gwendolyn Brooks, one day as she was walking through her Chicago neighborhood she saw something that caught her eye. When she looked through the doorway of a pool hall she saw a bunch of guys who seemed to be too young to be there. She was intrigued by what she saw, it was a combination of boldness and insecurity- and a bit of stupidity. On one hand, they were “thumbing their noses” at society by hanging out at a place populated by gamblers and pool sharks on a school day. On the other hand, by spending their day in a dingy, dimly lit room it seemed like they were trying to look cool rather than actually being cool. This event inspired her to write a poem about it The poem begins with the scene of seven boys playing pool at the Golden Shovel, the name of the pool hall seems to signify the short life that those who throw away their education and involve themselves in shady activities can expect. Golden is used to signify that the pool players are in their youth, this is due to youth being seen as a bright period of time in ones’ life. Furthermore, a shovel is normally associated with a grave, this signifies that the boys who are playing pool there are digging their own graves. The use of such a title implies that the boys are wasting their lives and that the bright future that lies before them is being cut short. Moreover, the pool players appear to be mysterious and this creates an illusion of the being cool, their activities also entail excitement due to breaking the rules however it will only lead to their demise. These boys are not cool, they claim to be because they left school but they are just sabotaging themselves by not living up to their potential. The poem continues with Brooks listing the illegal activities that the boys conduct in the pool hall that makes waste of their lives. Illegal activities are typically done in the shroud of darkness in order to hide, the narrator further implies this by stating that they “lurk late.” Darkness allows people to become what they cannot in the light and perform heinous acts, this same darkness allows the boys to “strike straight” and commit crimes without being caught and reprimanded. The poem continues with the narrator stating that they “sing sin”, this implies that the boys are proud of their actions and further reveals to readers how they have lost track of their lives. They also continue to be self- destructive by consuming alcohol or as the narrator called it; “thinning gin”. By not going to school the boys limit their opportunities to make life better for themselves, consuming alcohol and possibly committing crimes the boys have lost hope and further dim the brightness of their youth. By conducting such behavior readers can only infer that these are individuals who have giving up on society and moreover themselves. The last stanza of the poem sums up the life of the uneducated man, who chooses to leave school. The symbolism does not end there, in the last stanza of the poem the narrator states the boys “Jazz June”. The roots of Jazz extends to slavery, slaves sang songs in order to communicate secretly; thereby making jazz a rebellious genre of music. Furthermore, summer begins in the month of June; this represents freedom the struggles and hardships of life is the beginning of summer; it connotes a feeling of freedom from the everyday drudgeries of life. It is a chance for exploration and discovery. Despite their unaccepted behavior, they find freedom from society and consolidation in their actions. Surprisingly, the narrator admits that their life style leads to an early death, but he does not seem to care. This shows that their lives may be so unbearable that by involving themselves in such activities they gain existential freedom, which is characterized by not knowing or caring about what is right or wrong. They know what the end result of their actions is yet continue to do so and in the process convince themselves that they are cool. The boys are contemptuous of the establishment in which they are ill-fitted for, therefore they cloud their vision with excitement and danger. However, the path they chose is not a sustainable one; for it leaves to an early grave. This poem is written like a testimony, its use of short phrases makes it more likely to stick in the readers head and its simplicity urges readers to search for the deeper meaning within. The use of certain words such as; “lurk” and “die” puts emphasis on the actions of the boys and the consequence that they will inevitably face. Furthermore, the “we” at the very end is meant to provoke the thoughts of readers and represent the basic uncertainty of the boys. After reading about the ill actions of these young men, readers can relate to the boys in some way, we all do stupid things and sometimes don’t realize what the end results of our actions will be. Above all, I believe this poem was meant to be a message to the member soft h African- American community during the time period in which it was written, Brooks wanted the members of her community to not defer from the right path, she realized that life was full of numerous struggles and they could cause individuals to falter, especially the youth. The youth were the future of the African- American community and if they were not strong their future would not be so bright, as exemplified by the boys in the poem’ the end result would be devastating. To gain understanding of the poem, one would need to have great understanding of the many symbols used by Brooks, they work well along with her word choice to elaborate to readers what she believed would be the consequence of giving up on a brighter future. The lives of the youth are bright and precious like gold, however without hard work and perseverance it can be easily tarnished.

Work Cited
Brooks, Gwendolyn. "We Real Cool." Academy of American Poets. Web. 10 Mar. 2015. .
Dickson, L. L. "'Keep It in the Head': Jazz Elements in Modern Black American Poetry." Melus 10.1 (Spring 1983) 29-37.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. "We Real Cool." The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Ed. Margaret Ferguson.
Cummings, Allison. "Public Subjects: Race and the Critical Reception of Gwendolyn Brooks, Erica Hunt, and Harryette Mullen." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 26.2 (2005): 3- 36.

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