Gwendolyn BrooksWriting with uncommon strength, Gwendolyn Brooks creates haunting imagesof black America, and their struggle in escaping the scathing hatred of manywhite Americans.
Her stories, such as in the “Ballad of Rudolph Reed”, portraycourage and perseverance. In those like “The Boy Died in My Alley” Brooksportrays both the weakness of black America and the unfortunate lack of carespawned from oppression. In “The Ballad of Chocolate Mabbie” Brooks unveilsanother aspect of her skill by entering the domestic arena with the lingeringlimitations imposed by prejudice. These aspects, such as strength and finesse,are among Brooks great attributes. Worthy of exploration, Brooks powerful andhaunting techniques can be separated and explored in the above mentioned poems.Each work contains a specific tactic, which effectively promotes her ideas. Itis for that reason, tactics mixed with ideas, which have placed Brooks among thefinest poets.
Perhaps because of Brooks’ use of a stiff format, “The Ballad of RudolphReed” may be her strongest work. Imbuing the poem with incredible lines anddescription, Brooks transforms Rudolph Reed, who is the character the poem isbuilt around, into a storybook hero, or a tragic character whose only flaw wasthe love he held for his family. Brooks creates a strong, solid character whois more than another fictional martyr, but a human being. The Finesse sheimbued in this work from the first stylized Peiffer 2 stanza: “Rudolph Reed wasoaken.
His wife was oaken too. And his two girls and his good little manOakened as they grew.” (1081, 1-4) Here brooks’ symbolic use of the wordoakened, coupled with the use of a rhyme scheme of the second and last sentenceof every stanza causes the reader to more deeply feel what the character and hisfamily are going through. Using the idea of a dream home, Brooks stabbed to theheart of the American dream and where those of African descent fit into it.Every person, man or woman, has at one time or another dreamt of living in abeautiful home:”I am not hungry for berries.
I am not hungry for bread.But hungry hungry for a house Where at night a man in bed “May neverhere the plaster stir as if in pain. May never here the roachesFalling like fat rain.
“Where never wife and children need Go blinkingthrough the gloom. Where every room of many rooms Will be full ofroom. “Oh my house shall have its east or west Or north or south behindit. All I know is I shall know it, And fight for it when I find it.”(1081, 5-20)Without her use of the above dream, Brooks would have been unable to bring aneffective human perspective to Rudolph Reed and his family. Once this humanside was Peiffer 3 created, the horrible demise of Rudolph Reed struck with anintensity which would otherwise have been lost.
Losing finesse in place of what at first seems a shallow attempt atpoetry, “The Boy Died in My Alley” develops into an incredible exploration ofenfeeblement. Brooks power comes again from her ability to bring the readerinto a human world, with human characters. It explores the pain one personfeels, and the hopelessness spawned from it.
Although relatively few peoplelive in an area where crime is so rampant as in “The Boy Died in My Alley”, itstrikes a chord of fear and depression most in society may relate to. The useof a strong beat in this poem help to create the frantic yet uncanny depressionfound throughout the poem:”Policeman pounded on my door. “Who is it?” “POLICE!”Policeman yelled. “A boy was dying in your Alley. A boy is dead, and inyour alley. And have you known this boy before?” I have known thisboy before.
I have known this boy before, who ornaments my alley. Inever saw his face at all. I never saw his futurefall. But I have known thisboy.
(1084, 10-21)The staccato rhythm Brooks uses is developed through repeating many of the lines.The lines are not exact copies, Peiffer 4 but keep the poem rolling forward,which is important if Brooks hopes to keep the reader active in the storyline.Included for the staccato rhythm, is a short curt sentence structure:”Without my having known. Policeman said, next morning,”Apparently died alone.” “You heard a shot?” Policeman said. Shots Ihear and shots I hear. I never see the dead.
” (1083, 1-6)This use of rhythm is the style the work hinges on. In many ways the brokensentences remind the reader of the forms the English language have taken forblack Americans. Again, it can be pointed out this was the intention of Brooks.In ways not seen in “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed”, Brooks acts as the conductorof a symphony of words and style.An intoxicating work is “The Ballad of Chocolate Mabbie”. Second onlyto “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed”, “Chocolate Mabbie” has an unrivaled depth ofcharacter. Once again, Brooks draws the reader deep into the human soul. Shebares the wheels and cogs which keep people moving.
It is the one thing nearlyevery man woman and child has felt from one time or another, that Brooks delvesinto. Bringing to life a little girl of seven, Brooks creates a vision of humanlife. Unfortunately it is painfully aware to the reader Mabbie’s crush willnever manifest itself beyond herself: Peiffer 5″Oh, warm is the waiting for joys, my dears! And it cannotbe too long. Oh, pity the little poor chocolate lips That carry thebubble of song! Out came the saucily bold Willie Boone. It was woe for ourMabbie now. He wore like a jewel a lemon-hued lynx With sand-waves loving her brow.
Mabbie is black, and her crush is white. Brooks again crushes the readerssenses with the struggle of inequality and racism. As in “The Ballad of RudolphReed”, Brooks uses both finesse, and human characters. She allows the reader tofeel close to the characters. She gives them a chance to realize they may havelived through a time in their lives which were as difficult.It is safe to say, Gwendolyn Brooks is a master of styles.
Her ideascome to life on the page through careful examination of possible stylisticinterpretations; will it be finesse, rhythm or a combination of both. Brooksbrings out the best a work has to offer with strong, powerful lines, with enoughfinesse to lull the reader into the story.An Exploration of Style by: Will Peiffer