What is the attitude of the poem "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Pool Players
Seven At The Golden Shovel

We real cool. We
left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

__________________

There is a jazzy tone to this urban poem written by Gwedolyn Brooks about the denizens of Chicago's inner city. As such, jazz offers a certain incongruity in its sound with improvisation and rhythm and doubt. (What does "Jazz June" mean?) There is a certain defiance, perhaps, to what these boys know is their fate with the musicality of this poem; however, it is subtly suggested with "Sing sin" which sounds much like New York's prison, Sing Sing.

The diction of the lines is that of street talk: "We real cool." After each boast, there is a negative. For, while the boys of the street boast of being "cool" and staying out late and making gin and dying soon. But, Brooks herself writes with a non-judgmental attitude; instead, she lets the readers form their own opinions of the boys based on their rebellious attitude that leads only to "Die soon."

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akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most dominant attitudes in Brooks's poem is the lack of hope in the lives of those who are might see themselves as "cool."  Brooks speaks to how there is an attitude of sadness in those who live the life of supposedly being "cool:"  “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.”  The attitude that emerges in the poem is a sense of loss and displacement.  The supposed strength is fraudulent and reflective of weakness.  

It is an attitude that speaks strongly and speaks with a sense of purpose and defiance.  However, it is also an attitude that showcases a weakened condition of being in the world.  Lives being short, direction absent, and a sense of hurry to what constitutes being in the world are the attitudes that emerge in the poem.  Brooks's poem articulates an attitude of hopelessness that is intrinsic to alienated youth.  It is an attitude that showcases the “basic uncertainty” that young people experience in the modern setting.  This becomes the dominant attitude in the poem and helps to shape how young people can be perceived in a world where such voice is difficult to hear.

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