First Fight. Then Fiddle

by Gwendolyn Brooks
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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 494

“First Fight. Then Fiddle,”was written by Gwendolyn Brooks during her initial stage of creativity, which she names “express myself” phase. Her first book, A Street in Bronzeville (1945) brought her recognition, and the critical acclaim for her next book, Annie Allen (1949), won her the honor of becoming the first African American to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize in literature in 1950. The book is about Annie brooding over her pre-War dreams and post-War realities. Annie is an individual in her own right but is fairly representative of most other black women. In her poems of this period, Brooks portrays with sensitivity the lives of men and women around her and captures their lives not just in the moments of despair but also during their little victories in the face of adversities. She never forgets the world of segregation that overshadows the lives of her racial world, but, in general, her early poems are devoid of racial polemic and focus mostly on black experience from a woman’s perspective.

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“First Fight. Then Fiddle” foreshadows the next phase of Gwendolyn Brooks’s poetry, which reflects her growing commitment to the political function of the arts. Written after the end of the Second World War, the poem seems to be addressed to African American youth, caught between the desire to pursue their artistic inclinations and the resistance offered by the white society that refused to acknowledge their humanity. When the end of the War brought no relief to the black community, even though it had offered more than its fair share of young lives to fight for freedom, Brooks and other creative artists began to question the wisdom of giving inordinate importance to art in such perilous times. In this poem, the speaker clearly argues for fighting for a world where artistic creativity can flourish.

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Latest answer posted June 23, 2008, 7:26 am (UTC)

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Yet, to limit the call for militancy in “First Fight. Then Fiddle” to just African Americans would not offer a complete interpretation of the poem. The poem could also be read as a commentary on the process of creating art which requires a certain nurturing environment to bring forth its fruit. However, examined against the backdrop of World War II, the poem could also be read as a protest against all violence and hatred that deters the artist. The savagery of the Second World War was certainly not conducive to the creation of artistic works, and in this context, the call to arms may be seen as addressed to all the citizens to help preserve a civilized world where art can be created and valued. The poem also reminds us that all art requires unfettered devotion, and suffering and hurt are often the fate of the artist. Creation of art demands sacrifice in the face of resistance and indifference.

“First Fight. Then Fiddle,” often anthologized, remains one of the most popular poems of Gwendolyn Brooks. Its use of traditional form and techniques to treat contemporary themes continues to delight readers of all ages.

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