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Themes

We must say, it's a little presumptuous for us to decide that race is one of the central topics of "The Bean Eaters." After all, the couples' skin color is only mentioned once – and even then, it's part of a larger description. Gwendolyn Brooks's work, however, is known for its deft exposure of the ways that a person's race or class can affect his or her social standing. When she was writing in the 1960s, poverty rates among blacks were ridiculously higher than the poverty rate among whites. So even if this poem isn't explicitly about race, it's completely shadowed by America's racial history.

Questions About Race

  1. What race is this "old yellow pair"?
  2. Why do you think Brooks signals the couple's skin color in the first line of the poem? Is the placement of this information important?
  3. How does your reading of the couple's race color your reading of the poem? Use specific textual examples to describe your reaction.
  4. Do you think Brooks is writing a poem about race? Why or why not?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

This poem is not about race; it is about an old couple's humanity and everyday actions.

This poem is about the broken dreams of a couple who have lived in an unjust society.

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