In Gwendolyn Brooks's "We Real Cool" the focal theme is the stereotype of the young black American of the late 1950's and early 1960's; one who aims desperately to find a role within a society that aims to suppress him. As a result of such suppression and lack of government empowerment, the gang of seven black kids at the Golden Shovel chooses to lead a life of crime and mischief, thus making real the erroneous stereotype of all blacks being thought of as lazy, uneducated and socially inept.
The poem tells through figurative language and rhetorical devices how these young men lead their lives of crime.
Strike straight. We
Sing Sin. We
Thin gin. We
Jazz June. We
These are all descriptors of the different crimes that they have done, which range from fighting (strike straight), to boasting about it (sing sin), illegal alcohol use (thin gin), and the stealing of Summer vacationers and people who are new to the neighborhood (Jazz June).
However, Brooks by no means attempts for the reader to feel sorry for these men. She is not making these young men into heroes fighting a system like vigilantes while taking justice into their own hands. They are presented and shown as what they are: uneducated and ineffectual members of society; they are criminals.
Brooks presents this poem to show that the only way the black people of her generation can rise is by working together and fighting that system that so-very much tries to sink them. The portrait that she brings out aims to create conscience in the black community in the hopes that a collective sense of dignity can come out and permeate their lives for good. In all, We Real Cool is an ironic title that points out the mentality of a group of socially dejected young black men under the turmoil of their time.
Like much with Brooks, the answer is complex. On one hand, the characters in the poem did take some level of justice into their own hands. The songs of "sin" and "lurk late" as well as the lives that have been sadly truncated have involved some aspect of characters taking justice in life into their own hands. At the same time, Brooks indicates that there is a soft element that must add a dimension to whether or not the characters in the poem are able to be fully active in taking justice into their own hands:
“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.”
In saying "the 'we' softly," there is a sense of sadness regarding the protagonists of the poem. They are characters of a social and economic condition in which choice is limited. Few, if anyone, would actively choose to live a life that is so truncated and so abrupt, devoid of so much in way of revivifying notions of the good. This is where one sees that the individuals in the poem might have been able to take some level of justice into their own hands. Yet, a full experience of justice has been denied them in terms of their own condition of being. This helps to emphasize the complex and "soft" nature of the individuals in the poem, causing the reader to refrain from fully articulating whether the individuals in the poem are fully able to take justice into their own hands.