"Boy Breaking Glass"

An Outlet for Expression

Gwendolyn Brooks takes the ordinary and turns it into something beautiful. She uses two voices to describe the pain and frustration of life without liberties. With these speakers, she can breathe life into the black community as well as give it a voice.

In her poem "Boy Breaking Glass," Brooks uses diction and tone to eloquently describe a poor impoverished boy’s action of breaking glass windows to convey the theme that without a proper outlet for expression a person will use whatever is available or useful to find a way to express him or herself.

This poem exemplifies a need for an outlet of expression. And throughout the whole of it, there are indications of frustration from the two speakers. Brooks writes, “Whose broken window is a cry of art” (1). This is the first indication that something is needed. The word “cry” indicates some sort of grief or painful emotion. The cry in this line needs an outlet for the emotion that it has. As the poem progresses, Brooks chooses to use words of beauty and betrayal to describe what is possibly a bat going through the glass. She writes, “(success, that winks aware/ as elegance, as a treasonable faith)” (2-3). The word “elegance” used in this context in the poem implies grace in form and movement, which indicates that the way the boy is breaking the window, is graceful-like. Yet, the word “treasonable” indicates that he is also betraying something or something or someone by breaking this window. The next line can be interpreted to mean that this is not the first time this boy has broken windows because Brooks writes, “is old-eyed premiere” (4). The use of the word premiere usually indicates a first performance of some kind but as it is written after the word “old-eyed” the reader infers that perhaps this has been going on for a while. The word “old” indicates a past and a long one at that, and putting it with the word “eyed” could be inferred as having seen this type of action before and for a length of time. By choosing to use the two words together, Brooks successfully describes the length of the cry from the first line exquisitely. The way Brooks uses diction to describe what appears to be a bat is another way she does so successfully. As Brooks writes, “Our beautiful flaw and terrible ornament/ our barbarous and metal little man,” she indicates the beauty of the blemish as terrible, yet, as an accessory also making the broken glass seem decorative (5-6). In these lines, she chooses to use the word “barbarous” which indicates savageness and uncultured roughness. This would be true since the boy has no cultured outlet for his expression only the primitive way in which he uses his metal bat. Without a cultured outlet this boy has created a wild way to make his point and emotions, his cry known.

The first time the boy speaks is line seven and he says, “I shall create! If not a note, a hole, / If not an overture a desecration” (7-8). This cry tells the audience that if the boy cannot perhaps play an instrument inferred because of the word “note” or if he cannot create a piece of music, indicated by the word overture, then he shall create the next best thing, broken glass. As the boy speaks again, he knows that there is no going back from what he has done; he cannot fix the broken glass, and he cannot get away from his poverty because there is nowhere else to go. He says, “Don’t go down the plank /if you see there’s no extension” (11-12), if there is no greater length to get to then don’t try to go the distance. The tone here indicates that this boy is distressed.

The boy’s outcry leaves him “fidgety” or restless because he has no way to let his emotions and expressions out constructively besides breaking windows (14). This stressful tone of the poem come into full play as the boy says, “Nobody knew where I was and now I am no longer there” (15). This one line is full of emotion and indicates that this boy wants more out of life than what he has. It turns somber as the second voice says, “The only sanity is a cup of tea / The music is in minors” (16-17). These lines indicate that the only thing that this boy can do to ease his suffering is to enjoy the little things in life and the underprivileged ones. This outside speaker is like a voice of concern that feels frustrated for the boy as well. Lines twenty-two to twenty-four of the poem indicates that this boy has no community organization to help with the issues of his concern by Brooks’ words, “Who has not Congress, lobster, love, luau, / the Regency Room, the Statue of Liberty, runs” (22-24). This child does not have the freedom that others of his time, most likely whites, do. He does not have the luxury or money to afford to eat lobster or go to a luau. Most of all the “Congress” is not helping to achieve these goals at this time. The last three lines of poem indicate the final outlet for the boy is death. “A mistake. / A cliff. A hymn, a snare, and an exceeding sun” (25-27). These last lines of sorrow reinforce the theme of the poem.

Gwendolyn Brooks took the act of an impoverished boy breaking glass and beautifully conveyed the theme of the poem through diction and tone that without a constructive outlet for expression, a person must revert to the only thing he or she knows how to do and in whatever environment he or she lives. Whether it’s breaking glass or writing a poem, expressionism is a way to relieve the burdens life throws upon the people of the world.

1 comment

abrodech profile image

abrodech 3 years ago from 130 Linden St, Oakland, California, 94607

I will admit that I first read your essay before having read the poem; however, this did not diminish my enjoyment of it. I feel that you made a number of good points and I was able to get a sense of the emotionality of the poem without having read it first.

G.B. has a very particular way of phrasing things and expression frustration because she understands what her characters/subjects are feeling when she writes about them.

I've read "We Real Cool" by G.B. and I enjoyed that one as well.

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