Explain the images in the poem “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks.

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The images in "We Real Cool" emphasize the conflict between social conformity and youthful rebellion. The first image is that of school. The speakers proclaim that they have left school, which stands as a symbol of conformity, to go play pool at an establishment called the Golden Shovel. For most of the twentieth century, pool halls were often considered disreputable places where smoking, drinking, and criminal behavior were common. The image of a golden shovel is almost an oxymoron, gold being associated with luxury and even the Christian version of heaven (where the streets are often depicted as being paved with gold), and shovels being associated with the graves. This image suggests that the speakers are enjoying the present moment but that it will lead them to their deaths, as foretold by the final lines, "We / Die soon." In fact, it might even suggest that they are digging their own graves via their rebellious behavior.

Despite this foreboding, the poem is packed with lively images: singing and drinking, primarily. These images lend a sense of activity to the poem rather than static contemplation of a setting, person, or object. These lively images also offset the threat of death, suggesting that the speakers prefer a short, nonconformist life to a long one suited to social expectations.

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