Brooks' 1960 volume of poems, "The Bean Eaters," tackles optimism and injustice through the prism of ordinary life in the Chicago area where he grew up. The book includes nine slender volumes with a cumulative weight of less than 5 pounds (2.3 kg). Each poem was published when it was written in standard edition form, so some are quite short (a single page). Some are longer (up to 40 lines per poem).
The book's title comes from the first line of one of the poems: "The bean eaters say that spring is on its way." It goes on to describe how they live in a city where "bad things happen all the time" and yet they remain optimistic about the future because they believe "something good will come from everything."
This small collection of poems was not meant to be read as a whole work, but rather as separate pieces of art that together create an image of hope.
Gwendolyn Brooks' poetry "The Bean Eaters" is a brief and seemingly easy poem about a couple who "eat beans primarily." The poem is only three quatrains long, yet it packs a lot of information into those lines by employing literary elements such as symbolism and metaphor. The poem uses several poetic devices to achieve this effect including allusion, imagery, and paradox.
Allusion is the reference to another text or event when writing your own work. In this case, the bean eaters are a real-life couple who were photographed eating beans on a regular basis in New York City in the 1930s. By alluding to them, Brooks is making reference to a famous photo but also subtly commenting on how some people change through time.
Imagery is the use of words or phrases to create images in readers' minds. Imagery is useful in poetry because without seeing something, you cannot describe it. Thus, imagery is necessary for poets to convey their ideas to readers. Imagery can be represented in many different ways including simile, metaphor, and metonymy. Here, red is used to represent blood and black is used to represent death, but both colors are described as they would be in reality: as shapes that make up an image.
Speaker for "The Bean Eaters" The speaker of this poem is a third-person observer who walks the listener through the situation using simple, uncomplicated language. This speaker is also omniscient, able to peer into the minds of the elderly couple and reflect on their feelings and ideas. Their knowledge comes from experience and from watching others, so they can predict what will happen next.
The speaker is probably a poet or writer because poets and writers use language to express themselves and explore ideas. They are also likely to be an outsider looking in at the couple's life because they have no connection to them. However, speakers can also be people who experience something first-hand such as soldiers or travelers.
In this case, the speaker is probably a man since women are not supposed to talk about love nor are they expected to know much about it. Also, men are given more authority than women so they are likely to make decisions for their wives. Finally, husbands are usually responsible for paying the bills so they would need to be comfortable discussing money matters with their wives.
Women tend to focus on relationships while men focus on things that keep them busy. Thus, the speaker might be a man who is tired of wifely duties and wants to escape them for a time. He could also be a lonely traveler who sees two loving couples and thinks about how one day his own life will be like that too.