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Kitchenette Building

Kitchenette Building


by Gwendolyn Brooks

Analysis: Speaker

The speaker of this poem lives in one of the Chicago kitchenette buildings from the 1930s. Rather than narrate the poem from the first person ("I"), Brooks chooses to use the first person plural perspective ("we"). What's the point of that? Well, Brooks thinks it's important that the speaker not only give his or her perspective, but also speak on behalf of all the residents of the kitchenettes. It's a way of giving an intimate yet inclusive perspective. Right from the get-go Brooks uses that inclusive pronoun. The first line, "We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan," draws us into the poem and carries us all the way to the finish (the final stanza begins, "We wonder"). The effect—at least for us—is of making us want to get closer to this collective, speaking "we." Who is this "we," we wonder.

The residents of the kitchenettes were not a diverse bunch. These were almost all, if not all, lower-income African-Americans. So there was certainly a sense of being in the same boat in terms of the difficulties they faced living in the kitchenettes, as well as some of the struggles they faced in the world outside the kitchenettes. That's why Brooks chooses to have the speaker use the collective "we." This isn't just the experience of a single person, but of an entire group of people at an important time in American history. And instead of alienate her readers—Brooks knew she wasn't just writing to and for the people of the kitchenettes, but people of all races and economic statuses, and part of a very different time in history—she wants to include them. We are right alongside the kitchenette residents for the entire ride of this poem. That's a truly powerful message that this choice of speaker is conveying: when some of us suffer, we all do.

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