When you read Gwendolyn Brooks it is obvious that you must be aware of the society and community where which she lived. It is a black community with a range of different social standards however the most prevalent are the impoverished people in her community. With this in mind, you can bring most of what she writes about into present day impoverished black communities. Not much has changed and should serve to humiliate all of American Society.
In the poem “of De Witt Williams on his way to Lincoln Cemetery” we experience the assertion that all black boys are the same. That all black boys are just plain black boys with little to show for their lives. The term boy also does not mean child or at least we assume it does not because of the line,
“Where he picked his women, where
He drank his liquid joy.”
Instead, we know that the term black boy refers to most if not all age of black males. So now the assertion is even worse for not only are these people plain, but they are children. Claiming someone is a child has implications. These implications can range from children need to be taken care of and looked after; to the untrue but common implication of the simplicity of a child’s mind. Many people due to these implications do not appreciate being referred to as a child. Yet here we are, with a whole population of black males whether they are children or not being referenced as boys.
As a side note, many would also not appreciate being called plain. Plain can be a reference to being unoriginal and a non-individual entity. Plain can also mean not-very-bright, but that is basically covered in the assumption of these people being children so would be repetitive. Both of which cluster these people into one category and whole. These assertions diminish an individual with their own character into a stereotype, not a very pleasant stereotype.
In the poem, “The Boy Died in My Alley” we again encounter the word boy. Now the word is capitalized but holds all the same assertions as the previous encounter with the word had. This poem seems to be a continuation of the idea, however now it comes with a responsibility. The speaker has diminished the person to an average boy and thus killed him. Instead of trying to help or do anything for the boy the speaker ignores this person and the events that led to his death like they have done many times before. This is indicated in many lines like,
“The Shot that killed him yes I heard
as I heard the Thousand shots before;”
And I think this is the beginning of why “The Boy Died in My Alley” is more political and more relatable. Unfortunately, black culture runs synonymously as criminal. Seemingly only blacks can perpetrate crime. When something seemingly criminal happens to someone of black skin or to someone in a black community it is largely ignored. We might not know but we can assume that the reason the speaker has heard many shots in the alley is due to the fact they live in a criminally infested area. Where there are criminals we believe, due to cultural expectations, that there must be black people.
“Policeman said, next morning,
‘Apparently died Alone.’
‘You heard a shot?’ Policeman said.
Shots I hear and Shots I hear.
I never see the Dead.”
The second reason I believe that this poem is more political is the presence of the Police. I am unsure of the abilities of the police in the time that Gwendolyn Brooks lived, but why did it take till morning for the police to discover and investigate the death of the boy? Why did no one report this until the morning? Or if no one reported it why did it take till morning for the police to discover it? Perhaps it is simply due to the difference in time, but in my experience, if a person died of a gunshot in an alley the response would be almost immediate. Unless of course you live in a criminally infested area and people do not take notice of gunshots or running boys. Then again we are reminded that the speaker often hears gunshots and does nothing to report the crime. Then again we know that this is not the first death the alley must have seen because the speaker says they never, emphasis on never, see the dead. If this had been the first time why would you not have said I did not see the dead or the body?
As the poem continues we deal with the deal with the guilt of the speaker for not attempting to stop the boy’s death. Yet despite the speaker saying they killed the boy by not doing anything, we are left with the question of whether if such an occurrence were to happen again would the speaker do anything different. Would the speaker attempt to save the next boy?
“He cried not only ‘Father!’
The cry climbed up the alley.
It went up to the wind.
It hung upon the heaven
for a long
stretch-strain of Moment.
The red floor of my alley
is a special speech to me.”
Despite such a tremendous speech, it is only a moment to the speaker, and we have no assurance that the speaker would do anything differently the next time they hear a shot in their alley. This poem is a very strong message on the inability of people to change what they think is unavoidable. Whether that message is political or not I think depends on why the boy’s death is unavoidable. Are gunshots in the speaker’s alley always going bring death?