We Real Cool
Gwendolyn Brooks, 1917 – 2000
THE POOL PLAYERS.
SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.
We real cool. We
Left school. We
Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We
Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
Analysis of Gwendolyn Brooks' "We Real Cool"
Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "We Real Cool" sums up the reality that many youths faced if they chose to leave school. This poem was written in 1959, which was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. In the case of Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to segregate schools; however, desegregation was slow and many African Americans became frustrated. Segregation caused more than just separation, it caused many youths to question their roles in society; if you are told enough times that you don't belong, that you are different (in a bad way), or that you are less than others, then you will eventually start to believe it. Many youths gave up on the idea of having a future, because they were told that they had no future; so why try. The boys in the poem seem to be struggling with identity. The poem opens with the scene of seven boys at a pool hall named the Golden Shovel. Seven is a number that is typically associated with being lucky. The seven pool players can also be seen to represent a small gang, and they need luck on their side, in order to survive their various financial and risky endeavors. The name of the pool hall, the Golden Shovel, signifies the short life expectancy of those who choose a life of crime over education. The golden part of the title implies that these pool players are young; they should be in school instead of in a pool hall. The shovel is an image that is commonly associated with graves. Therefore, the significance of the name of the pool hall is that the pool players who hang out there are digging their own graves by conducting illegal business. The pool players have an air of mystery around them that makes them seem cool. They seem exciting, because they aren't doing what they are supposed to be doing; they aren't playing it safe. In the second stanza, the narrator, who appears to be one of the pool players, says that they are cool because they left school. They are sabotaging themselves by not going to school and living up to their potential. These boys are in fact not cool. The monosyllabic diction of the poem promotes the idea that these boys are uneducated. Brooks has said that "the WEs in "We Real Cool" are tiny, wispy, weakly argumentative "Kilroy-is-here" announcements. The boys have no accented sense of themselves, yet they are aware of a semi-defined personal importance. Say the "We" softly" (Report From Part One). Brooks continues the poem by listing the illegal activities that these boys partake in. The narrator states that they "lurk late," and typically illegal activity is conducted in the dark. The darkness allows people to become whatever they want; the dark distorts images, making someone who appears harmless in the daylight appear menacing in the dark. The boy says that they "strike straight," which can be interpreted to mean that they commit crimes such as robbery, rape, and murder correctly, so that they will never be prosecuted for them. They "sing sin" implying that they boast of their misdeeds, as if their misdeeds are a part of some sort of right-of-passage into manhood. The final activity listed by the narrator is that they "thin gin," which means to water down the alcohol so that they can make more money, and they probably do this at the pool hall. Not having an education severely limits ones opportunities to make a better life for themselves so they turn to illegal occupations to support their families and to pass the time. By participating in these kinds of illegal behavior they are giving up on themselves. The last stanza of the poem sums up the life of the uneducated man, who chooses to leave school. The narrator states that they "Jazz June;"...
Cited: New York: Norton, 2005. 999-1000.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. Report from Part One. Detroit: Broadside Press, 1972.
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.
Dickson, L. L. " 'Keep It in the Head ': Jazz Elements in Modern Black American Poetry." Melus 10.1 (Spring 1983) 29-37.
Smith, Gary. "Brooks 's We Real Cool." Explicator 43.2 (1985) 49-50.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Implementation Decree; May 31, 1955; Records of the Supreme Court of the United States; Record Group 267; National Archives.
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Opinion; May 17, 1954; Records of the Supreme Court of the United States; Record Group 267; National Archives.
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