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Gwendolyn Brooks delves into the conditions of real people's lives, exposing the tiny details that demonstrate that their everyday routine is strained by the lack of money. Without any resources, though, the couple in "The Bean Eaters" manages to collect a room full of memories – scraps and "fringes" of all of the things which remind them of days when their lives were happier (and maybe just a little bit more well-off).
Popular opinion says that once you reach a certain age, your life might as well be over. After all, what do old people have to contribute to society? They don't work. They don't produce children anymore. What do they do? That's precisely the sort of logic that allows society to forget an elderly couple, leaving them all on their own in a tiny rented room. Even though they may once have been mothers and fathers, friends and family, they're now abandoned. It's not too pretty, we have to say.
Sure, a rented room in the back of a house isn't exactly what comes to mind when we think of homes in America. After all, isn't owning your own home part of the American Dream? From what we can tell, this bean-eating couple missed out on that particular part of the dream a long time ago. Despite the fact that they have little money and are left on their own, though, this couple has constructed a routine that seems to fill their lives – even though the entire scope of their lives is contained within one tiny room.
We must say, it's a little presumptuous for us to decide that race is one of the central topics of "The Bean Eaters." After all, the couples' skin color is only mentioned once – and even then, it's part of a larger description. Gwendolyn Brooks's work, however, is known for its deft exposure of the ways that a person's race or class can affect his or her social standing. When she was writing in the 1960s, poverty rates among blacks were ridiculously higher than the poverty rate among whites. So even if this poem isn't explicitly about race, it's completely shadowed by America's racial history.