Gwendolyn Brooks

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Student Question

What associations do you make with words and images in the poem "The Bean Eaters" by Gwendolyn Brooks?

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It is a rather bleak picture of a poor, lonely couple that Gwendolyn Brooks portrays in her poem, "The Bean Eaters."  Unable to afford meat, the old "yellow pair," African-Americans who have not been out much, sit at the creaking table--much like their creaking joints--and eat from their "plain chipware" with "tin flatware."

This lonely couple, who are "Mostly Good" have not met with fortune since their tableware is meager and "their rented back room" is all they possess from having "lived their day."  And, although there is mention of "dolls," it seems that there are no other people in their lives now.  Perhaps, as the old pair remember with "twinklings and twinges," there is the joyful remembrance of a child now lost; only beads and dolls remain, and some  futile attempt once at luxury: "vases and fringes."

Indeed, this is a portrayal of two old people who live lives of "quiet desperation," having suffered in poverty all their lives.  Now, they have only each other, and only their small daily routine of subsistence, "putting on their clothers/And putting things away."

This poem is characteristic of Gwendolyn Brooks, who wrote of the frustration, reality, and injustice of black lives.  With a theme of the individual's search for self in an inhumane society, Brooks writes, "The Lord was their shepherd./Yet did they want" (enotes).

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