Problem Of Consequences For Every Action In We Real Cool And The Ballad Of Rudolph Reed

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According to author Kenny Jackson Williams, during Gwendolyn Brooks’ school years she had attended three different high schools and 1 college all with different racial standards. Being able to attend all of these schools, Brooks was able to experience many different environments and events to base her themes and poetry off of. Some of her poetry show a theme that can be shared through many of her poems. Two examples of poems with shared themes of hers are “We Real Cool” and “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed.” Much of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry expresses that there are consequences for every action, and many of them are negative.

Every action in life, no matter how big or small, will have some sort of repercussion. Repercussions are unintended consequences for an action, and consequences are the results of an event or action. The repercussions are not always positive. The idea that they are not always positive is really important to keep in mind as the negative consequences can really affect someone’s life.

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Many different events in Brooks life influenced her theme that for every action there is going to be some sort of repercussion. African American author Kenny Jackson Williams says, “A turning point in her career came in 1967 when she attended the Fish University Second Black Writers’ Conference and decided to become more involved in the Black Arts Movement.” The things going on during this movement, like race riots, influenced Brooks’ theme of all actions having consequences. According to English professor Farah Jasmine Griffin, “Bronzevilles across the nation exploded in violence and rioting.” The actions of many people during these riots led to consequences, many of which were negative, as there was a lot of death and injury resulting from them. Brooks probably noted these actions and wanted to incorporate an idea into her poems to teach people to think before they act as the consequences might not be worth it. Another part of her life that influences the theme that all actions have consequences were her high school years where she had attended four different high schools, all having different racial ratios to them. Kenny Jackson Williams states, “These four schools gave her a perspective on racial dynamic in the city that continues to influence her work.” The schools she attended could have influenced Brooks as it allowed her to see all the violence and disagreements between different races and how the actions of those people could not only affect others but also how it affected themselves.

“We Real Cool” is a poem that was published in Brooks’ book The Bean Eaters in 1960. It is a short, four stanza poem with two rhyming lines per stanza. In the poem, Brooks writes about children who leave school and begin committing an abundance of actions that would normally be associated with evil. The poem ultimately ends with them dying because of their decisions. Although the poem is short, it conveys the idea that for every action there is a consequence. In the poem, Brooks writes, “We real cool. We left school” (“We Real Cool”). Brooks talks about leaving school in the poem, and it leaves a feeling of foreshadowing because the thought of leaving or dropping out of school is normally believed to come at a cost as people who leave school miss out on educational opportunities. This part of the poem could be foreshadowing some consequences coming to them because of this decision. At the end of the poem, Brooks writes, “ We die soon” (“We Real Cool”). This part shows that there are consequences for everything as the children’s actions of leaving school left them to die soon.

The idea that there is a consequence for every action is supported all throughout the poem “We Real Cool”. Literary critic James D. Sullivan says, “The group dissolves in the last line, ‘Die soon,’ the final consequences of coolness, of energetically rejecting the middle-class respect for education.” This quote shows that because of wanting to fit in and reject education has left them in a place with negative consequences. Another part of the poem that shows the theme that every action has consequences well is the line in the middle of the poem. According to literary critic Gary Smith, “the alliterative pattern of their spoken words, ‘Lurk late,’ ‘Strike Straight,’ and ‘sing sin,’ belies any possibility for mental growth.” The words at this part of the poem make the children seem unintelligent as they are all parts of some bad or illegal sounding actions. These words show that they are uneducated and were not able to grow mentally as a consequence for their actions. “We Real Cool” shows that there is a consequence for every action no matter how big or how small the actions are.

“The Ballad of Rudolph Reed” is a poem by Brooks that expresses very openly that every action has a consequence. The poem is about a man who wanted to move to a better place for his family. The move did not go as planned because as there family where black moving into an almost all white neighborhood things got pretty violent. The poem ends with Rudolph Reed dead after trying to fight back white men who tried to vandalize and destroy his house as well as hurt his family. The poem has one big part that shows the theme of every action having consequences. In the poem, Brooks writes, “By the time he hurt his fourth white man Rudolph Reed was dead” (“The Ballad of Rudolph Reed”). This part of the poem is a huge example of every action having consequences as death is probably one of the largest consequences in life. Brooks’ decision to make Rudolph Reed move into a majority white neighborhood during this time period shows that she was trying to convey all actions have consequences as there were going to be some obvious implications of that decision.

Having a consequence for every action is supported largely in “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed.” Author Brooks says, “A man who wanted to improve his family’s environment moves into a previously all-white neighborhood. His neighbors are horrified by the intrusion. There is violence, and he is killed” (“On ‘The Ballad of Rudolph Reed’”). It can be inferred through what Brooks says here that she was trying to convey the idea that him dying was a consequence of moving to this new neighborhood. Another quote that shows the theme of every action having a consequence is from literary critic Arther P. Davis who says, “he is just a plain man goaded to violence by an attack on his home.” This shows that no matter how somebody acts or what their intentions are there will always be consequences and most of the time they will be negative. Rudolph Reed through a bunch of unfortunate events dies and this ways Brooks’ intention so to convey her theme that every action has consequences.

Many of Brooks’ poems show that although there are not always positive, all actions will have repercussions. Brooks’ life, from the many schools she attended to the events she attended, persuaded her to create and implement the theme that every action has consequences into her poems. Her works such as “We Real Cool,” where children leave school and die as a consequence in the end, to “The Ballad of Rudolph Reed,” where a man is killed for trying to protect his family, all show the theme really well. In these poems she is trying to get people to stop and think about their actions before doing them. This would allow people to think of possible consequences and decide whether the action is worth the consequence. This will not only help individual people, it will help the entire world. If people with more power in this world would look at the consequences of their decisions for themselves and others then maybe they would take more time to think on the decisions.


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