The Use of Symbolism and Metaphor in Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool”

“We Real Cool” is a rather short poem, but it’s a very powerful one because of the message it conveys to the reader and the society as a whole. The poem is about how the youths are living dangerously, and the poet urges them to stop their undesired actions so that they can lead meaningful lives. The author, Gwendolyn Brooks, conveys this idea through the use of metaphor and symbolism, which is majorly discussed below.

Use of Symbolism and Metaphor

The use of symbolism and metaphor in the poem is quite evident that a reader can notice it from the title of the poem. A mental picture of some seven boys playing pool in a noisy and smoky bar is created. The lads seem to stay in the bar until the wee hours of the night with no consideration for their future lives. The word “shovel” in the poem is a metaphor to mean a burial or probably dangerous occurrence in someone’s life. It says the seven young men might die soon if they do not change their careless way of living. The way the word “we” has been used in this poem suggests that the boys do not see themselves as individuals because of peer pressure hence they cannot make considerations to reason like people. This is another use of symbolism, which warns the society about the adverse effects of peer pressure (Dean et al., 2015). The use of “we” also symbolizes unity in whatever they do. The word has used both as a symbol and metaphor. The young men might also be street youths because there is use of slang instead of formal English. The use of slang is itself symbolism used to warn street kids to live healthy lives. The line “We left school” is used to signify a lack of life goals and inspiration. It also shows their confidence in whatever they do. The use of “sin” here is a metaphor with a meaning that only the reader can imagine. For example, it might mean unsafe sex.



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The poem urges young men to stay away from alcohol and drug abuse and focus on their education and shaping their future lives. The symbolism and metaphor have been employed in this poem to warn young men to refrain from activities meant for older people in the society because they might die young if they do so. The use of these two literary styles has made the short poem to be a powerful tool to use in showing young men direction as they grow up.



Dean, M., Hancock, M. W., Kind, L., Kotlarczyk, A., Micklo, E., & Townsend, T. A. (2015). Thoughts on African American literature from the IMSA English Department. Faculty Roundtable.