“Sadie and Maud” a poem written by Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks, is an ironic depiction of the lives of two sisters. Maud went on the socially acceptable track of going to college, while Sadie stayed at home and did what is generally considered as against the mores of society. Ms. Brooks’ poem tackles how these two women’s choices in life dictate their future. In a cynical twist of fate, Maud ends up desolate despite doing what is socially “correct”. In contrast, Sadie does what is socially “wrong”, but ends up happy about having lived her life to the fullest. Ms. Brooks cleverly uses sound and rhythm to entice her readers to probe deeper into the real message of “Sadie and Maud”.
An Interpretation of Gwendolyn Brooks’ “Sadie and Maud”
Written by Gwendolyn Brooks, the poem “Sadie and Maud” whimsically reflects how the choices two women make affect their lives. Maud adheres to society’s dictates by making the “right” choice in life and goes to college. Because the poem is written in an era when education is considered as the key to success, the reader assumes that Maud will have a better future than Sadie. Nevertheless, Maud ends up living a cheerless, lonely life. Sadie, in contrast, makes the “wrong” choice according to social mores, but ends up happy. The poem suggests what the true sources of happiness in life are.
The poem is aptly titled, with the first two lines placing the distinction between the two women and the paths they have taken: “Maud went to college. Sadie stayed at home” (Brooks, 1-2). These two statements entice the reader to form impressions of the two women. Because Maud went to college, there is a hint of success and contentment in the future. However, because Sadie stayed at home, one gets the impression that her future would be bleak and destitute. The poem, however, wryly introduces a twist. Sadie ends up living a spirited existence, as compared to Maud’s forlorn life.
Between the lines of the poem lies a powerful message concerning stereotypes, or certain roles by which people conform to because they want to fit in with society. Sadie breaks away from the stereotype of a “good girl” by, first, not going to college; and, second, by having two children out of wedlock. Society, portrayed in the poem by “Maud and Ma and Pa”, is infinitely ashamed of Sadie. As a result, the reader is left with an uncomplimentary feeling towards Sadie, and a wary pity towards Maud.
At the end of the poem, the reader is given a glimpse into what the future brings for Maud.
Although earmarked for success, Maud ends up far from one. Ms. Brooks eventually likens her
to a “thin brown mouse”, denoting destitution and misery. In the last line of the poem “She is living all alone / In this old house”, Ms. Brown intentionally uses the word “house” instead of “home” (Brooks, 19-20). House providentially rhymes with the word “mouse”, and is in complete contrast with the warm connotation of the word “home”. This unexpected twist leaves us with a lingering impression that what started out to be the “right” choice does not necessarily translate into the “correct” one.
It is not implied why Maud’s choice resulted in a bleak future. To note, out of the twenty lines in the poem, only five lines refer to Maud. Ergo, not much is known about her except that she is a college graduate. Sadie, on the other hand, passionately lived her life. This is referred to in the poem by the lines stating that she “scraped life/ With a fine-tooth comb” and that she became “the livingest chits/ In all the land.” It may also be inferred from the poem that because Sadie made the “wrong” choice, lift was not easy for her. In all likelihood, Sadie might even had to use her physical charms in order to survive.
The poem “Sadie and Maud” is bittersweet. Maud proved that going to college does not exactly bring a happy ending. Instead, Sadie showed that success is happiness. Lastly, one wonders whether Sadie regretted her decisions in life. The answer comes in the four lines that say “When Sadie said her last so-long/Her girls struck out from home (Sadie had left as heritage
Her fine-tooth comb.) (Brooks, 16-20).
Before Sadie passes away, she teaches her two daughters to live their lives as Sadie lived hers. It is indeed imaginable that Sadie advised her daughters to be themselves, do what will make them happy, as long as they take responsibility for their actions.
The beginning lines of the poem “Sadie and Maud” appeal more to the reader because of their sound, rather than their meaning. Ms. Brooks emphasizes poetic sound to convey the theme of the poem. Alliteration, the repetition of sound in consecutive or neighboring words, is utilized by Ms. Brooks in the lines “Sadie stayed at home. / Sadie scraped life…” (Byway, 2008). The alliteration reflects Sadie’s joie de vivre and independence.
Moreover, assonance – the repetition of the same or similar vowel sound, especially in stressed syllables – enriches the poem (Byway, 2008). Ms. Brooks indirectly links some words and by doing so, she emphasizes the imagery that conveys the poem’s theme of how different two women who grew up in the same home can be. “Under her maiden name/ Maud and Ma and Papa…” Aside from alliteration and assonance, poets also use rhyme as sound patterns9Byway, 2008). A conventional rhyme scheme is positioning rhyming words appearing at the ends of lines (Byway, 2008). In Sadie and Maud, the rhyme scheme is abcb, defe which depicts the way two things can start the same, but eventually change.
There are two kinds of rhyme, beginning rhyme and end rhyme (Byway, 2008). Sadie and Maud uses only end rhyme. “Her girls struck out from home/ Her fine-tooth comb”. The repeated words “Sadie” and “Maud”, which swings from one subject then back again in “Maud went to college/ Sadie stayed at home” (Brooks, 1-2), injects a singing rhythm to the poem that resembles children’s song. The memory of carefree childhood cynically contrasts with the adulthood that both women face as they mature: Sadie stays home and has two children out of wedlock; Maud goes to college and ends up “a thin brown mouse”.
The meter of the poem is anapestic dimeter — every other stanza is alike — contributes to the general theme of the poem like the contrast of the sisters (Byway, 2008). A method of varying meter is to create a pause in the rhythm by a “caesura”, a “cutting” within a line. Ms. Brooks uses caesura to enhance the beat of the poem (Byway, 2008). The end of a line usually indicates the end of a metrical unit, although it does not always synchronize with the end of a sentence. At this point, Ms. Brooks opted to pause before going on to the next line, or end-stopping. “When Sadie said her last so long/ Her girls struck out from home.” (Brooks, 13-14). With these lines, Ms. Brooks gives her poem a sharper effect like the lines in a song.
Incidentally, the name Sadie is derived from the name Sarah, and Maud is a variation of the name Madeline. Both Sarah and Madeline are names used by upper class society during Ms. Brooks’ generation, while Sadie an Maud were used by ”simpler folk”.
In conclusion, Ms. Brooks cleverly and eloquently expressed her sentiments about what the true sources of happiness in life are, by her depiction of Sadie and Maud. Ms. Brooks, an African-American poet and Pulitzer Prize winner, was allegedly subjected to racial prejudice while growing up. As a result, most of Ms. Brooks’ characters come from the inner city, including Sadie and Maud.
Because sound and rhythm are an integral part of our daily lives, we usually ignore their effect on us. Remember, sound and rhythm is in the beating of our hearts, the sound of rain falling, and in the way we talk, walk and show our feelings for each other. Similarly, what attracts people to poetry is its sound and movement. Ms. Brooks used sound to express the theme of Sadie and Maud, and allows her readers to probe deeper into the poem to discern its hidden message.
Byway, B. (2007, November 18). Glossary of Poetic Terms, Retrieved April 16, 2008 from the World Wide Web: http://www.poeticbyway.com/glossary.html.