Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The first section of Gwendolyn Brooks’s Selected Poems is devoted to an investigation of the world that the poet has chosen to represent: “A Street in Bronzeville.” The street is dominated by women, as the presence of such figures as the mother, a hunchback girl, and Sadie and Maud indicates. The first poem in the sequence, “Kitchenette Building,” is a central one because it asks what the fate of a dream would be in this world. Would it penetrate the “onion fumes” of garbage and “fried potatoes”? The speaker wonders if it might be possible, but at the end of the poem she recognizes that ordinary needs such as “lukewarm water” would keep any dream from taking hold. This is a world of limitations in which any higher aspirations must be put aside for immediate needs. The immediate needs that drive out the dream are chosen by both male and female, since these needs involve “feeding a wife” and “satisfying a man.”

The next section includes two very different poems on the men of this society. The first, “The Sundays of Satin-Legs Smith,” is an ironic portrait of a dandy and ladies’ man. His careful dressing and scenting of his body are more elaborate than those of any woman. His treatment of women is, however, arbitrary; he admits of no “compromise.” Everything must be done according to his desires; there is no commitment to any woman, since he has a different prostitute each week.

In contrast, “Negro Hero,” based on Dorrie Miller, a black sailor in World War II, portrays a man who fights for equality in order to save “a part of their democracy.” He had to...

(The entire section is 668 words.)