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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 465

“The Lovers of the Poor” is one of thirty-five poems in The Bean Eaters , a collection that moves beyond the descriptive and autobiographical to show Brooks’s growing social awareness. A satire on people with neither respect not genuine charity, the work was inspired by a visit Brooks received from...

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“The Lovers of the Poor” is one of thirty-five poems in The Bean Eaters, a collection that moves beyond the descriptive and autobiographical to show Brooks’s growing social awareness. A satire on people with neither respect not genuine charity, the work was inspired by a visit Brooks received from two wealthy white women who wanted to see how the black winner of the Pulitzer Prize looked. In Brooks’s words, they behaved “rather sniffingly.” The women barge into Brooks’s apartment, apparently without warning, and silently criticize, while their hostess copes with the usual business of the day. The women feel it their duty to step outside their affluent environment and help the less fortunate, but they are totally unprepared for the raw, teeming poverty that they encounter.

Brooks uses several devices to help the audience perceive the women’s true attitude toward the poor. First, she employs sensual images that repel the visitors, such as the stenches of garbage, urine, and rotting food. The women are also put off by the myriad “Children, children, children—Heavens!” To the sheltered visitors, there is something repugnant in the prolific reproduction of the poor. Brooks reveals their genuine feelings regarding the poor through references to their “love so barbarously fair,” their “loathe-love,” and their intent to refresh with “milky chill.”

Brooks’s use of capitals, lowercase letters, and italics is also noteworthy. Words beginning with capitals imply a dry objectivity. Thus, the capitalization of “Ladies,” to refer to the visitors, suggests a crushing, dehumanized force, without individual identity. (Brooks does not reveal until the end of the poem that there are two women.) Other capitalized words include “Slum” and “Possibilities.” To the Ladies, the Slum is simply a geographic area, not a human community. Similarly, “Possibilities” is an abstract concept, having no connection to specific persons with potential.

Finally, the italicization of “heavy” in “heavy diapers” and “general” in “general oldness” accentuates the difference between the Ladies’ experience and the present situation. The phrase “heavy diapers” suggests that the busy mother in the apartment is less meticulous in child care than the Ladies are or would be, and the “general oldness” of the building is not picturesque, like that of the Ladies’ mansions, but signifies decrepitude.

In her youthful writings, Brooks associated pink with a mountain maiden, an image connoting innocence and remoteness from the world. Twice, she refers to the pinkness of the Ladies in their makeup and their “rose nails”—thus emphasizing their naïveté. She also mentions their “red satin hangings,” associating red with the quiet anger they apparently feel, and “hangings” with slave punishment. Finally, she describes a rat as gray, the color of gloom. It is the rat that induces the Ladies to leave, feeling useless in this atmosphere of despair.

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