The Bean Eaters by Gwendolyn Brooks: Summary and Analysis

Gwendolyn Brooks is a renowned Black female poet who penned this short poem called The Bean Eaters in 1960. She has successfully created the picture of a couple who are socially isolated and in a dire economic condition. She has used jazz rhythm in this poem and breaks the traditional syntax of so called white discipline, morality and goodness.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

In this short lyric, Gwendolyn Brooks is describing the life pattern of the old yellow pair who has rented the back room. Probably, they might have rented the back for the cheap rent. Moreover, their room is congested. They are shown in the dinner table eating cheap dinner of beans. They look around and notice beans, breads, dolls, receipts, tobacco crumbs, vases, fringes in the same room. They have kept all the things together and this keeping together also reflects their poverty.

Moreover, there are many other images in the poem which reflect their poverty. Most of the time, they eat the beans only and dinner has become their causal affairs. That is to say, they eat dinners occasionally. They might take dinner to mark the festive occasion. The occasional nature of dinner and bean as their part of the schedule also highlight their poverty. The qualities of utensils, particularly tin flatware and plain chipware also contribute to the same impression.

Despite this, poverty this old yellow pair has mostly lived their life with goodness and virtues and been ‘Mostly Good’. Their life has gone being good. And the repeated use of word 'remembering' makes us think seriously about their achievement. They might have thought about what they got being good. They couldn’t get anything out of their virtues. From this point of view, this word 'remembering' review the so called white lecture of morality, virtues, and goodness. The poem basically focuses on the word, remembering, which may have the double implication. First, they may have remembered how many bad people in their community have been living the prosperous life; they didn’t need the virtue of any kind. Second, more specifically they might have been recalling the days when they had eaten the whole meal.

In the thorough reading of the poem, it seems to be the analysis of the poverty but if the old yellow pair stands for the black, it represents the stories of the black. The white society always demands morality and virtue in the part of the blacks but ignores their suffering.

Though the poem is short, it is packed with symbols and metaphors. The setting in the back room with low cost dinnerware and creaking table metaphorically suggests that the old couples are poor and live in a pathetic place. As the setting is poor and nothing especial is noticeable in the poem, it could be symbolic to the characters of the poem who are old, poor, boring and nothing extraordinary feature is related with them. The less excitement of the setting is directly related to the excite less life of the old people who have nothing to do except waiting for death. 

The title of the poem is also symbolic which signify the poverty of the couple. Beans are generally cheap food which this old fellows dine most of the time, so they are mentioned here as ‘The Bean Eaters.’ The cheap wares, creaking wood, beads, tobacco crumbs all symbolically speak as the poor and distressing state of the old couple.

Similarly, some strong imagery are used to create the picture of the couple: ‘yellow pair’, ‘mostly good’, ‘lived their days’ and ‘keep on’. These imagery richly tell us about the old couple who had been good to others are now grown very old and waiting for the death in a poor state. Their age and poverty is again reinforced in this imagery.

If this poem is analyzed in terms of racial point of view, it gives the clear picture of the Afro-American people whose condition in old age turns out to be very pathetic. The poet shares some painful social discrimination in a very simple tone. Though they have been good throughout their life, have followed the so called white discipline and morality, they are now in a poor condition just left with beans to be eaten. Their all the contributions have been forgotten by the whites and they are in the isolated place of the back room with the memories of the past only. They might have lost their kids or their kids have been separated from them by the whites, so they don’t have any support even in the old times of their life. The ‘old yellow pair’ here suggest the turning of the old couple into yellowish due to deficiency of nutritious food.  By using Jazz rhythm and breaking the traditional Syntax the poet metaphorically might be trying to go out of so called white discipline, morality and goodness.

Related Topics

The Mother: Summary and Analysis

Gwendolyn Brooks: Biography