Study Questions on Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks

Dr. Tina L. Hanlon

Associate Professor of English
Ferrum College

Questions by Student:

1. Explain why the narrator of “The Mother” feels such confusion and remorse. What do you think the mother means by the word “all” in the last lines of the poem?

2. What does “The Rites for Cousin Vit” seem to be describing in the first four lines? What do you feel the narrator’s attitude is toward Cousin Vit?

3. What do the first two lines of “We Real Cool” say about the rest of the poem?

Other Questions:

4. How do the descriptions in “The Mother” cause us to sympathize with the unborn children? How do they make us sympathize with the woman? How do lines 5-6 affect your reaction to the woman?

5. Is “The Mother” an anti-abortion poem? Pay close attention to its tone and rhythm. What does the speaker mean in lines 20-21? Is the title ironic?

6. Who–or what–is speaking in “Kitchenette Building”? How would you describe the inhabitants of this building and their daily lives? Is the dream or hope lost or still alive for the speaker in this poem?

7. Diction and rhyme are especially important in “The Rites for Cousin Vit” and “We Real Cool.” How do they contribute to the content of the poems?

8. How does the form of “We Real Cool” relate to its content? How does the strong rhythm (with every syllable stressed) make us feel at the end? Is the last sentence a climax; is it consistent with the declarations in lines 1-7? What do elements such as the end-of-line repetition of “we” suggest about the character of individuals like the pool players?

9. Do the pool players in “We Real Cool” believe that they are real cool? Does the poet believe it? How can you tell?

10. What are the contrasts between the lives and perspective of the ladies in “The Lovers of the Poor” and the poor people they visit?

11. How does alliteration contribute to the tone of “The Lovers of the Poor”? (Notice how alliteration forces us to read more slowly and to focus on sequences of words.)

12. Compare the views expressed in these Brooks poems with those expressed in Langston Hughes’ poems on the following subjects: death, racism, dreams.

13. Clara Claiborne Park pointed out in The Nation (September 26, 1987) that Brooks’ poetry was “intellectual, disconcerting, subtle to the point of obscurity, all the things whites like and blacks [in the turbulence of the late 1960s] found unusable.” Can you apply any of these comments to the poems in this selection?


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