What are the main themes in "We Real Cool"?

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The Power of Group Associations

One thing you can't miss in this poem is the focus on "we." The individual is left behind in this poem and becomes one of a collective group who participates in increasingly rebellious actions—or at least the speaker likes to think so. One of the...

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The Power of Group Associations

One thing you can't miss in this poem is the focus on "we." The individual is left behind in this poem and becomes one of a collective group who participates in increasingly rebellious actions—or at least the speaker likes to think so. One of the key questions which arises from this loss of individual identity in the poem is whether the speaker truly wishes to be part of this group. Another question is whether the group is only rebellious because they are acting as a collective entity. Regardless, the seven players seem destined for trouble because of the actions of the group.

The Effects of Rebellion

This group enjoys questionable behaviors. They don't flinch from sin—they "sing" of it. They "thin" their gin, or water it down, making it last a while longer. (Thus, it seems that they don't have the financial ability to truly support the rebellious acts they claim to enjoy.) They ditch school to play pool, and it can be inferred that there is likely gambling in the background of this speaker's story. However, all of these rebellious acts are underscored in the final lines: "We / Die soon." Though they participate in activities of "sin," designed for their rebellious pleasure, they also seem to be on a certain path of eventual destruction.

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One major theme of this poem is that young people always feel invincible, as though they cannot be touched by tragedy or pain, and yet they are not nearly as untouchable as they believe themselves to be. These youth engage in some increasingly questionable activities—lurking around, perhaps getting into fist fights, committing sins, drinking alcohol—and they learn that there are consequences to these behaviors when they "Die soon." Or, perhaps it isn't that they really die soon, while they are so young, but that death always seems to come too soon. We are busy enjoying our lives, doing whatever it is that makes us happy, and then we are shocked when our time comes, no matter when that is. There is also some dramatic irony in the poem in that we, the readers, understand that these kids think they are "cool" but we do not; we see how destructive their behaviors are. So, another theme could be that doing things to be "cool" is ultimately self-destructive and not cool at all.

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In this short poem, the members of the group who play pool together at the Golden Shovel reinforce and validate each other's pattern of destructive behavior: dropping out of school, hanging out playing pool, drinking gin, staying up late and "sing[ing]" sin." Brooks emphasizes this sense of group dynamics by having every line of the poem but the last finish on "we." If you listen to her read the poem, you will hear that she stops hard on the "we" at the end of every line, as if to further stress the word, which, in her reading, also functions as a pun: not only is a group of people indicated by "we," but the "we" can sound like the word "whee!" which we might say while having a good time. The poem's ending: "die soon"—indicates that the narrator is aware that the collective behavior in which he participates is destructive. Thus, the theme of the poem, "choose your friends wisely," warns that the people you hang out with might offer you a temporary good time, but can also lead you in the wrong direction. The eNotes summary of the poem also offers good insights.

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There are three main themes in Gwendolyn Brooks's poem "We Real Cool": Identification, Mortality, and Musicality.

  • Identification

The voices of "We" are placed as the final word of the end-stopped lines. This significant placement, according to Brooks, makes "we" pronounced softly. Such a low tone to "we" suggests that the boys have their individual identities and possibilities subsumed in their subculture.

  • Mortality

Death casts its pall over the inner-city boys who are probably part of a gang. Again the "we" is minimized to the illegal activities of "Strike straight," "Sing sin,"and "Thin gin." They know that they will "Die soon."

  • Musicality

The poem contains the rhythm of a jazz tune. The alliteration and internal rhyme lend an almost seductive tone to the poem, suggestive of the physical movement of the gang members, who live in the shadow of crime and childhood dreams unrealized. A short and deceptively simple poem, "We Real Cool" captures in its minimalism the rhythms and experiences of black street life that suddenly give way to greater depths of thought and meaning.

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I assume that you are talking about Gwendolyn Brooks' poem by this name.  In that poem, the main theme is that a certain group of young men (presumably a subset of African American young men) has cultural values that are destructive.  This can be seen most clearly in the last line, where we find out that these guys "die soon."

Brooks is pointing out that the choices these people make and the things that they value lead them to an early grave.  She is saying that they (and not society or anyone else) are responsible for their problems.

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