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Literary Terms in “the Bean Eaters”

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 994
  • Category: Symbolism

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Did you know Gwendolyn Brooks was the first African-American, male or female, to win the Pulitzer Prize (eNotes.com)? Brooks was born on June 7, 1917 and began to have an interest in poem early in her life. Her first poem was published at the age of thirteen in the American Childhood Magazine in 1930. Today she is known for having more than twenty books of poems published like “The Children Coming Home” (“Gwendolyn Brooks,”PoetsPath.com). In many of Brooks’s poems she uses many literary terms to elaborate more on the theme of her poems. One poem of hers called “The Bean Eaters” recounts how an old couple upholds their lives together. In the poem there is no mention of any friends or relatives of the couple that accompany them, but only their memories and their little possessions. Although they “eat beans mostly” and “dinner is a casual affair,” they dine while recalling all their amusing and wonderful memories of the past (litmed.med.nyu.edu).

In the poem “The Bean Eaters,” Brooks uses symbols and imagery to help her explore the theme of an elderly couple maintaining their existence. Brooks uses symbols to support her theme of an elderly couple maintaining their life. Symbols are something that represents or stands for something else. In the first line, Brooks starts out talking about the couple’s dining ways. “They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair” (“The Bean Eaters,” Brooks). Basically, Brooks is saying that the couple are not having the best meals in the world. The beans symbolize everything that the pair is missing in their lives, money-wise and socially like good food to eat. Instead, the couple makes do with what they have and they make it work for them.

So in doing this, Brooks’s theme is supported by the symbol of beans because the couple carries on with their lives and they maintain it by being contented with the little they possess. Another symbol that Brooks uses to convey her theme is when she refers back to the beans again at the end of the poem. Brooks writes “As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that/is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, /tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes” (“The Bean Eaters,” Brooks). This quote from the poem tells the reader about all the things the couple have that they are happy with. For the couple to lean over the beans to look at all of their belongings symbolizes the way they surpass their conditions and remember their interesting past with the memory that each item contains. So the couple uses their belongings and memories with it as a way to maintain their lives.

Brooks uses imagery to support her theme of an elderly couple maintaining their life in the poem “The Bean Eaters.” Imagery is a visually descriptive or figurative language used in a literary work. In the first stanza, Brooks States what they use to eat their meals on a normal basis, “Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood, /Tin flatware” (“The Bean Eaters,” Brooks). This quote gives the reader a visual description of two people sitting down and eating off of chipped plates and cheap silverware. Also you can visualize that the couple are barely going on with the lives and maintaining it with the inexpensive things they have. Another quote in the poem that contains imagery is “Two who are Mostly Good. /Two who have lived their day, / But keep on putting on their clothes/ And putting things away” (“The Bean Eaters,” Brooks). The reader can visualize two people doing the same thing every day, living, eating, and replacing things like their clothes.

The reader can imagine the couple spending most of their time “putting things away” and that is one way how they maintain their lives by keeping up with their daily routine. In the last stanza more imagery is present. Brook states “As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that/ is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths, / tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes” (“The Bean Eaters,” Brooks). In this quote individuals can picture a cluttered room. Brooks give a sense that all the items the elder couple possesses are piled on top one another and are crowded, since the images of their belongings are crowded together in the poem. When Brooks uses imagery to make readers visualize these belongings, it shows that they have kept everything that is full of all the memories that they have obtained over the course of their lives. These belongings help them to maintain their lives together.

As you can see, Gwendolyn Brooks’s use of imagery and symbols has supported the theme of the poem “The Bean Eaters,” and the theme is how an elderly couple maintains their lives together in a small place. Symbols are used to make a meaning of a phrase mean more than it seems like. Beans were one of the symbols used in the poem that represented the little that they had and everything missing in their lives. Here beans are not meant to mean the actual seed, but more than it is in the couple’s life. Imagery is written to visually describe something to a next level to trigger the five senses while reading it. One of Brooks’s uses of imagery, which triggers the sense of sight, in the poem was when she talked about the couples living conditions and all the things they possessed. In the readers mind they could visualize a stuffed room of belongings. Brooks displays how the two elder people are content with what they have and they don’t care for any expensive belongings because the riches they possess are the wonderful memories they share. Using figurative language, like symbols and imagery, in any literary work will really emphasize the theme just like how Brooks use it to convey the meaning of “The Bean Eaters.”

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