Analysis of Poem “Sadie and Maud” from “A Street in Bronzeville”

Jessica Prince

Analysis of Poem  “Sadie and Maud” from “A Street in Bronzeville” by Gwendolyn Brooks

As impressionable and rational individuals we tend to live our lives in accordance to the expectations set by others. This is especially the case in the oppressed working class cultures and communities. Usually the opportunities that were unattainable by the older generations are pushed upon their youth. Standards are set and expected to be upheld, and  in some cases a person’s life is already planned and expected to be lived out accordingly before they are capable of communication. The message Gwendolyn Brooks sent in her poem “Sadie and Maud” is that in a family where standards were to be upheld one sister dared to claim and live the life that was rightfully hers, truly enjoying life. while the other lived and went about her life more accordingly but in the end was left in solitude and what I would assume to be misery. While one sister lived happily according to her own standards and the other got a good education but ended up all alone, neither of their choices would have yielded during that time a consequence less outcome.

Sadie and Maude presumably are based to have lived during the early forties somewhere around the area of Southside Chicago presumably Bronzeville a neighborhood in that area that was predominately black during the early twentieth century. Black communities during that time period were much different than they are today. During that time there were more nuclear family units, meaning both a mother and father present in the household, black on black crime was almost nonexistent in comparison with today’s standards, (people were most like too occupied with the white on black crime.LOL) and the civil rights movement was in the planning stages so hope and diligence was truly all people of color had.

Black people were discovering and trying to stay in their place in the still very racist society, being a minority it was difficult to truly fight for their rights being outnumbered and all. That is just what we were to a minority, so for Sadie and Maud it was double the trouble not only were they black but they were also females, double minorities. It was only natural for their parents to desire better opportunities for their daughters given how few they themselves were probably afforded. Unfortunate though because given either path both women decided to venture on there would always exist the negative consequence, and I will go on to explain just what I mean by that.

“Maud went to college and Sadie stayed at home” therefore Gwendolyn could have ended the poem at this point right,  Maud obviously did the right thing at least by today’s standards, we could just access from those two lines that because Maud sought out further education and Sadie did not Maud led the successful and fulfilling life while Sadie most likely ended up failure, sponging off her parents, running about, having children out of wedlock, working at some fast-food joints, basically fulfilling the role as a true disgrace to not only herself but black society in general. Well not so fast, because regardless of Sadie’s decision to not pursue higher education she chose to live her life to her on ideals and standards and did so unapologetically, and not only did she not go to college but she did in fact have two children out of wedlock in which she gave to both of them her maiden name. Now speaking from my own perspective and experience in being a part of a black society, that is taboo; the poem goes on after this is revealed to say her entire immediate family “nearly died of shame”.

This is an issue that is still and well more so prevalent in our society today. As black people then and now, we are still minorities in a predominantly white society, thus we were then and are still now (my opinion and that of many others in despite what race our current president is) regarded as second class citizens and looked down upon. So getting back to my point Sadie was going to be regarded as even less of person having done this to herself and family, but she did not seem to be phased by anyone’s negative perception. She scraped life with a fine tooth comb, meaning she enjoyed and lived it to the fullest despite other standards. Ultimately she valued her happiness over the approval of others and for being a black woman in that period time it was tremendously brave and bold of her. Maud on the other hand did what any respectable daughter would do and that is well, what her parents encouraged of her to do. No one could assume that maybe Maud had a desire to go off to college and make something of herself, and maybe that was her own way of utilizing her “fine tooth comb”. However, when in the end she ended up meek and alone, it would have to be questioned if she truly went after and sought out to do what would truly bring her happiness and joy in life. No one who ends up old and alone is happy; one of the greatest aspects of life is exploring it and sharing it with others. Thus it could be assumed that through all of her diligence and hard work in school she forgot to peak her head up from out of the books and experience and enjoy the world going on around.  Maud most likely perpetuated her habit of isolation and obligatory diligence throughout the rest of her life as the poem ends indicating she was all alone left with her only her inherited old house.

So what are we to gather from this poem, that Sadie was happy because she lived how she wanted to and Maud was not because she lived according to how others desired?  Well my answer would have to be no! I believe sisters as I briefly mentioned in my opening paragraph ended up with consequences to bear. Sadie was shunned by society for not making what we be considered as more responsible choices with her life, and Maud basically sacrificed her own happiness and content to ensure that of the ones around her i.e. her parents, community, etc. Therefore I feel Gwendolyn brooks wrote this poem to serve as an indication that being a black woman at that time was arduous, a change in the mentality of our oppressors (both within the black community, and society in general) would have to come before we could truly be a part of the” free world” without so much judgment and limitations cast upon us. As a poem in the collection of “A street in Bronzeville” it significant to the others in the message she perpetuates throughout her writings about black urban life post the great depression and that was the message of the need to eradicate idealism. This would be essential to the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, and any humane worldly cause that would follow. We as people have to break free of the psychological prisons that have been created to aide in the comfort of others and live independent of that and freely for ourselves.


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