In the poem "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks, what are three literary devices used? What is the theme?
The theme of the short poem by Gwendolyn Brooks is that high school dropouts often feel proud and sure of themselves at first because they are bolstered by their peers, but eventually they will suffer the negative consequences of their choices. In the poem, the jazz-like rhythm and the multiple lines that end in "we" portray the cocky swagger of the seven who "left school." These teens believe they are "cool" as they go about their singing, drinking, dancing, and hanging out. The fact that there are seven of them and the repetition of "we" suggests that they gain their self-image from being part of this group. The last line stands in harsh contrast to the rest of the defiant words; they will pay for their poor choices eventually. The chances of their dying young are high.
Several poetic devices are used in the poem. Consonance is used in "real cool" with the repeated end /l/ sound emphasizing the overconfident attitude of the teens. Examples of alliteration are "lurk late," "strike straight," and "jazz June." The rhymes that occur not in end position but in the penultimate word of each line are an unusual technique. This is paired with another unusual rhyming technique: using identical rhymes at the end of each line except the last. The technique that gives the poem its unique feel is the ironic use of enjambment and caesura. Normally a line that ends without punctuation should be read smoothly to the next line without pausing. This is called enjambment. Caesura is a hard stop in the middle of a line of poetry, which occurs in every line of this poem except the last. However, because of the repeated "we," which is the last word of each line but the beginning of a new sentence, readers are tempted to pause after "we" before going to the next line. This is, in fact, what Brooks intended. (You can listen to her read her own poem at the link below.) Thus the poem defies the rules for reading poetry, just as the seven have defied the rules of society by dropping out of school. Finally, the poem ends with irony. The dire sentence imposed on the seven at the end stands in stark contrast to the lively arrogance they exhibit in the rest of the poem. Having the "we" deliver the prophecy of their own demise is ironic since they probably don't understand or believe those words--at least not yet.