Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
Like poets of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Brooks presented a vision of a community that could prosper and celebrate its culture despite hardship. Unlike the romantic, sometimes exoticized portrayal of African Americans that became the trademark of Harlem Renaissance poets, however, Brooks portrayed regular people who happened to face unique challenges and develop unique perspectives based on where and how they lived.
Although some reviewers have described Bronzeville Boys and Girls as a children’s book, meant to appeal to children of all backgrounds, it is clearly social commentary in its presentation of a particular community and a cross section of the children who live there. While their parents and other adults are in the background, it is clear that the children are affected by their economic challenges and the other hardships of growing up. In contrast to the retreat represented by Chicago’s white suburbs, Bronzeville in the mid-1950’s was exposed to the realities of crime and poverty. A decade before the Civil Rights movement, Brooks portrayed the tension lying beneath the surface while also showing children how they could transport themselves to other places through imagination, as well as appreciate the community in which they lived.