Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock” contains themes found in much of Gwendolyn Brooks’s poetry. Undeniably it is a thoughtful criticism of contemporary society. In an interview from her autobiography Report From Part One (1972), Brooks says that much of a writer’s use of themes depends upon the climate of America at the time: “I think it is the task or job or responsibility or pleasure or pride of any writer to respond to his climate. You write about what is in the world.” Examining the United States in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, she could not escape the existing racism and violence. The point of the poem is that people often do fail to see its existence in their communities, their neighbors, and even themselves.

For the most part, the poems in The Bean Eaters are about commonplace people, and this poem is no exception. Brooks demonstrates the extraordinary effects that “ordinary” lives can have on the course of history. She also shows that violence is often perpetrated by people who present a benign exterior. The poem attempts to see behind the mask. Brooks strips away illusions about evil and immerses readers in its very real, very conventional nature.

The eighth stanza shows how Little Rock citizens feign politeness, answer the phone, and respond to questions about the problems in their community. Even as they converse with reporters they remain firmly in denial about their...

(The entire section is 436 words.)