Tone of “Truth”
The poem, “Truth,” by Gwendolyn Brooks, was written in 1949, during a continuing era of black oppression in America. Brooks was born June 7, 1917 in Topeka, Kansas but her family moved to Chicago shortly after her birth, according to her biographer, Georg Kent (2). The Poetry Foundation biography of Gwendolyn Brooks says her father was a janitor who had dreamt of becoming a doctor and her mother was a schoolteacher and classically trained pianist (Halley). Both of her parents had dreamt about living the “American Dream” and both suffered hard times and disappointment instead. Brooks’ parents were very supportive of her passion for reading and writing and first sensed her talent at age seven, when she started writing two-line verses and then four within a couple years (Kent 1). “By the time she was seventeen she was publishing poems frequently in the Chicago Defender, a newspaper serving Chicago’s black population,” (Halley). At age 32, Brooks had written her second book of poems, Annie Allen, published in 1949 and in 1950, “Gwendolyn Brooks was a highly regarded … poet, with the distinction of being the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize,” (Halley), for her poems Annie Allen including “Truth”. Brooks uses metaphors, personification, hyperbole, imagery and irony in this poem to illustrate the darkness of the unknown or accepted and the illumination of the truth and all it takes to uphold it. The speaker in “Truth,” has an earnest and reflective voice, yet there is also an inflammatory overtone to the poem.
Brooks lived in a time of many atrocities for African-Americans and women and her poems reflected her views on these social and political times. Thom Rosenblum discusses the struggle for segregation by the white population and against segregation by the black population in the Topeka, Kansas public school system from 1879 to 1951. Several court cases such as Brown V. Board of Education, involved black citizens challenging the constitutionality of the state’s segregation laws by the fourteenth amendment, but all were overturned (Rosenblum). Brooks was in the public school system further north in Chicago during this time but she still experienced the ugliness of prejudice first hand. Once she started Forrestville Elementary School she was no longer protected by the shelter of her parents. Her biographer says, “The children ignored her or, seeing her wallflower-like withdrawal, called her ol’ stuck-up heifer and declared that they wanted nothin’ t’ do with no rich people’s sp’iled chirren,” (Kent 5). Brooks’ family was not actually rich but her aunt had bought her some nice dresses for school and since she was shy and kept to herself, the children labeled her a snob and cast her aside. “But her main deficiency, others believed, was the absence of light skin and good grade hair,” (Kent 5). All across the United States, but especially in the Southern states, blacks suffered tremendously from racism. In the South lynching was still widely practiced and many states had Jim Crow laws that greatly restricted the civil liberties of African-Americans to keep them from voting, segregated in public places and uneducated. This lead to the “Great Migration” to the Northern states and “Between 1910 and 1930, cities such as New York, Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland saw their African-American populations grow by about 40 percent, and the number of African-Americans employed in industrial jobs nearly doubled,” says Terry Gross of National Public Radio in a written interview with Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. Brooks’ family was one of the many to make that migration north. As an oppressed black women witnessing the everyday struggles of her fellow man, Brooks wrote “Truth,” with the hope of helping people become aware of just how blissfully unaware they have been. In a filmed interview with the Library of Congress, Brooks says, “We are lost...
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