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Title:Urban rage in Bronzeville: Social commentary in the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks, 1945-1960
Author(s):Bolden, Barbara Jean
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Watts, Emily S.
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, American
Abstract:Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet Laureate of Illinois, earned fame when she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize (1950) for her second book of poetry, Annie Allen (1949). Brooks used the poetic language and the traditional prosodic devices of the English poets and earned wide acclaim for her poetic expertise. However, by doing so, she also became the literary target of a chorus of dissident voices: a cultural contingency accused her of directing her writing to a white audience and ignoring her own Black community, while a critical coterie viewed her work as unduly obscure and complex because of her use of inverted syntax, extreme wordplay, and highly allusive images. In the midst of the tensions created by such controversial analyses of Brooks' early work, little attention has been directed to illuminating its social content. Yet, the reality is that since Brooks published her first book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville (1945), her voice of social consciousness has been consistent and clear. In this study I explicate Brooks' poetry from the perspective of the social commentary in the two works listed above and in her third book of poetry, The Bean Eaters (1960).
The thematic structures and poetic techniques in Brooks' poetry reflect her immersion in the multiple literary traditions of white poets like William Shakespeare, John Milton, Robert Frost, John Donne, Emily Dickinson, and T. S. Eliot. Yet her deft expressiveness in early poems like the "Gay Chaps at the Bar" sonnet series is especially ironic since, thematically, she re-defines the form; rather than borrowing the associative attributes of a melodiously elevated lyric, Brooks' sonnets sing of the somber strains of Black soldiers of World War II who are fighting a dual battle: one for patriotism and one against racism.
An analysis of the historical aftermaths of the Post-Depression Era, World War II, and the Civil Rights Movement, against their literary counterparts in the Harlem Renaissance (1920's and 30's) and the Black Arts Movement (1960's), provides an apt juxtaposition of the works of Langston Hughes for the regional sensibility he shares with Brooks; Sterling Brown, for his expertise with the ballad form, and Margaret Walker, as one of Brooks' few Black female poetic peers of the day. Finally, I align the use of history, language, allusion, and social commentary in the works of Melvin Tolson and Robert Hayden, with the social and poetic articulation inherent in Brooks' early works. The three-fold theoretical methodology I use to illuminate the social commentary in Brooks' poetry is historical, formal, and feminist.
Issue Date:1994
Rights Information:Copyright 1994 Bolden, Barbara Jean
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9503142
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9503142

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