Conventional Elements of Literature Poem Analysis: The Bean Eaters

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In The Bean Eaters, a poem written in plain language and in the third person, the narrator describes an elderly couple eating beans for dinner with plain chip ware and tin flatware. The setting and symbolism suggest that the couple is not wealthy, but they continue to live and remember their rich life full of beads, receipts, dolls, and clothes. The theme of survival and the struggle of older people is reflected in the daily routine of the couple. The simple description of their dinner also suggests a political statement about the social conditions of many elderly people. The poem captures a mix of daily routine and struggle, which is characteristic of Gwendolyn Brooks’ political statements in her poems.

Table of Content

The poem consists of three stanzas with each four lines. The poem is written in plain language. There are no dialogues and it is written in the third person, the narrator tells a descriptive story about two present characters at dinner time.

The ‘theme’, ‘symbolism’ and ‘setting’ are the most important elements of literature used in this poem. The theme says something about the message of the poem. The symbols represent the idea, the writer wants to show. The setting tells us the location, the daily live of the characters.

 These elements can be found in the words used to describe the characters eating their dinner. “This old yellow pair” means that the characters are an elderly couple. The couple is eating beans for dinner: “They eat beans mostly”. This dinner is nothing special because “dinner is a casual affair” and they use “plain chip ware” and “tin flatware”. These words indicate that the couple is not rich or wealthy, but plain and simple. Apparently, this couple, who “have lived their day”, is having a daily routine of “putting on their clothes” “and putting things away”. But instead of giving in, they keep on living and “remembering” a rich life “full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths”.

The poem tells us something about the survival of these older people, relying on a daily routine. The hidden message, of the ‘simple’ description, can also be about the social conditions a lot of elderly people have to live in. Gwendolyn Brooks is known for her political statements, made in her poems, and this poem is no exception. The Bean Eaters captures a mix of daily routine and struggle.

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