Interpretation of Poem “We Real Cool” – Gwendolyn Brooks
The poem “We Real Cool” is a very powerful poem, although expressed with very few words. To me, this poem describes the bottom line of the well known “ghetto life”. It describes the desperate and what they need, other than the usual what they want, money. Without actually telling us all about the seven young men, it does tell us about them. The poem tells of the men’s fears, their ambitions, and who they think they are, versus who they really are.
“We Real Cool," by Gwendolyn Brooks is a fervent short poem that tells a story of teenage rebellion. This poem is a formal verse ballad which uses simple sentences that create a steady meter giving the poem a catchy jazz like quality. Although the poem is short, it packs a powerful message about youth. Gwendolyn Brooks centered her works predominately around the African American consciousness. During the 1960’s when the poem was written, many teens especially young African-American men felt misunderstood and like the world was set up for them to fail. On the surface, it appears this poem is a mere description of young adults that are misjudged. The deeper message of this poem addresses the dangers of peer pressure, and its detrimental effects to self-identity because of the disconnect between society and youth of that time. Peer pressure can take place whenever people gather and spend frequent time together. Most people are subject to its effects and often experience it because of shared experiences or they share the same perspective on life. This becomes dangerous when a group has enough influence to dictate an individual’s way of thinking or behavior.
The basic story of the poem We Real Cool concerns a group of seven young men playing pool in lieu of attending their classes at school. Gwendolyn Brooks described these seven young men as “dropouts, or at least they’re in the poolroom when they should possibly be in school, since they’re probably young enough, or at least those I saw were when I looked in a poolroom” (Stavros 72). These young men entertain smugness in this perceived act of rebelliousness, as evidenced by the lines “We real cool. We Left school” (Brooks 1). The word “Left” is capitalized to highlight the young men’s pleasure in getting away with it (Brooks 1). The poem successfully employs simple and direct language to offer the reader a piercing insight into the quality of these young men’s activities: “We Lurk late. We Strike straight. We Sing sin. We Thin gin. We Jazz June” (Brooks 1). The young men stay up late, avoid school, indulge in alcohol and “sin,” and listen to jazz music (Brooks 1).
Definitely, their ability to Jazz June seems a sort of climax, for what follows is death, physical or spiritual, a definitive leaving behind. The word jazz suggests flashy, eccentric, stylish, abstract - and also spirit, energy, spunk - this is the macho world the gang have entered, willingly or not. The last line is still shocking, the collective We almost proudly boasting of a premature demise which follows on logically from what has gone before.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. “We Real Cool.” Reading for English 2. Mark Connelley and Joseph Trimmer, eds. Oxford, U.K.:Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.
Dickinson, Emily. “Because I Could not Stop for Death.” Reading for English 2. Mark Connelley and Joseph Trimmer, eds. Oxford, U.K.:Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.
Hughes, Langston. “Harlem.” Reading for English 2. Mark Connelley and Joseph Trimmer, eds. Oxford, U.K.:Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.
Stavros, George. “An Interview with Gwendolyn Brooks.” Contemporary Literature 11.1: (1970). 72. Print.
Thomas, Dylan. “Do Not Go Gently into that Good Night.” Reading for English 2. Mark Connelley and Joseph Trimmer, eds. Oxford, U.K.:Oxford University Press, 1995. Print.