Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484
The efficiency apartment described in “Kitchenette Building,” the first poem in A Street in Bronzeville, recalls the apartments in which Brooks and her husband lived prior to the early 1950’s, when they purchased a house. Bronzeville, so named by the Chicago Defender, was a black ghetto consisting of forty square blocks on the South Side of the city. With its cross-section of people and lifestyles, Bronzeville provided Brooks with a wealth of subject material.
Written in an irregular rhyme scheme that moves toward pentameter, “Kitchenette Building” bears stylistic traces of the work of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and John Donne, while its message is reminiscent of that in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, Or, Life in the Woods (1854), which Brooks had read and admired. Discussing the need for simplicity, Thoreau states that “our life is frittered away by detail.” In a similar vein of thought, the narrator of the poem muses about whether dreams and aspirations can compete with the mundane details of life—onion fumes, fried potatoes, garbage rotting in the hall—especially in a cramped ghetto dwelling. She does not muse for long, however; another tenant has just vacated the communal bathroom, so she must scurry down the hall to use what is left of the hot water before someone else beats her to it. Practicality must supersede dreams.
The first line in “Kitchenette Building” suggests the wryness of Eliot: “We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan/ Grayed in and gray.” After this introduction, however, the poem moves into a lighter mood, as the narrator begins to wonder about dreams, which she describes as being violet and white. At age eleven, Brooks began writing her poems and reflections in notebooks; she noted that she associated colors with particular characteristics and images. These associations are found in some of her adult poetry. When the narrator says that she and her spouse are “gray,” she means that they are gloomy, depressed with their surroundings. Violet, on the other hand, is a delicate shade of purple, which Brooks connects with art and beauty. In referring to the violet of dreams, she may also be thinking of the flower. Although its blossoms are fragile and short-lived, like many dreams, the violet is an independent, self-pollinating plant. Its independence suggests the individuality of dreams.
Brooks associates white with purity. In “Kitchenette Building,” she may be wondering whether any dream can avoid becoming contaminated by the bustle and sordidness of a tenement apartment. In addition, “white” may refer to the white race, implying that only Caucasians have the time and opportunity to dream of the future.
Obviously, Brooks was able to dream and write in her small apartments, but her ability stemmed from her upbringing and innate talent. In the poem, she seems to be asking whether most people living in such places can nurture an aspiration amid the petty details of daily life.
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