Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469
“The Children of the Poor” is contained in the third part of Annie Allen. Partly autobiographical, Annie Allen consists of three sections: “Notes from the Childhood and Girlhood;” “The Anniad,” a poem of forty-three stanzas, in which the central character, Annie, attains personhood; and “The Womanhood,” in which Annie reaches maturity. In general, Annie Allen requires more concentrated reading than A Street in Bronzeville, as Brooks makes more obscure implications regarding human nature and uses more complex language marked by symbolism, figures of speech, twists of diction, and unusual combinations of words.
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In “The Children of the Poor,” Brooks looks at the ravages of World War II from a mother’s standpoint. To her, the most vulnerable survivors were the children left fatherless, especially those whose widowed or abandoned mothers were economically impoverished. The poem consists of five sonnets in the Shakespearean and Petrarchan styles, each sonnet examining a different aspect of life from a maternal view.
In the first sonnet, Brooks describes the nature of motherhood by combining positive and negative images. For example, children’s “softness” makes a “trap” and a “curse” for their mothers. Nevertheless, youngsters provide “sugar” for the “malocclusions” of the love that produced them. Motherhood is confining, yet fulfilling.
In the next sonnet, Annie declares the need to give her children something that will lend shape and meaning to their lives. Lacking material resources, she concludes that her gift will be a few lessons in coping with the world.
Sonnet 3 proceeds to examine the issue of religion. Having come from a Christian home, Annie retains a core of faith along with a degree of skepticism. Therefore, she advises her children to hold their faith in “jellied,” or pliable rules; to “resemble graves,” that they might bury doctrines that do not conform to their personal beliefs; and to become “metaphysical mules,” stubbornly refusing to accept church teachings without first scrutinizing them. At the same time, she tells them that should their faith falter, she will be there to rebuild it, even if rebuilding involves reinterpreting Scripture or blinding the eyes of her young to disturbing doctrines.
In the following sonnet, Annie sets priorities: Although aesthetics are important, politics must come first. That is, if her children are to be productive, they must first attain a strong sense of self as well as a sense of the dignity of the black race.
In the final sonnet, Annie ponders whether her children will achieve justice for themselves and their race or succumb to “the universality of death.” Ironically, Brooks presents dying in a positive light. By referring to death as completion and the grave as “familiar ground,” she may be implying that for the poor, death is a release from the hardships of life and the only thing poor children really have to look forward to.