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Gwendolyn Brooks was a black poet from Kansas who wrote in the early twentieth century. She was the first black woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize. Her writings deal mostly with the black experience growing up in inner Chicago. This is the case with one of her more famous works, Maud Martha. Maud Martha is a story that illustrates the many issues that a young black girl faces while growing up in a ‘white, male driven’ society. One aspect of Martha that is strongly emphasized on the book is her low self-image and lack of self-esteem. Martha feels that she is inferior for several reasons, but it is mainly the social pressures that she faces and her own blackness that contribute to these feelings of inferiority. It is through these depictions that we are able to identify with the feelings of the writer. Gwendolyn Brooks wrote an autobiography that reveals many her attitudes, tendencies and criticisms. Martha, in Brooks’ stories has a low self-esteem. This lack of self is directly related to her being black. Brooks’ experiences growing up are the key influence in the writing of Maud Martha
Martha’s self-image is very low because she feels that being black will not get her anywhere in society. She feels as though she is backed into a corner when it comes to the problems that the black culture faces from day to day. Martha is a very dark shade of black. She thinks that because she is this shade she is not a beautiful as her friends who are a lighter shade of black or obviously, white. These issues exist and are perpetuated by her family, friends and even her boyfriend. Brooks also discusses similar issues in her autobiography. She talks about skin color and how people are attracted to bright people. By bright she is not referring to their intelligence or wit, but the color of their skin. She also says that in order to be respected as a black person you have to be a light shade of black and not have many of the characteristics of a black person. She believes that in order to be beautiful, a girl cannot have hair that appears to be straightened by a hot comb; rather you should have curly hair. And you must be dressed well. In her opinion it helps if your mother is a schoolteacher, because then you will probably have nice clothes and be somewhat intelligent.
Brooks talks about holidays as well. She discusses how they are white influenced. She explains how she didn’t mind that Santa Clause is white. She says:
It did not trouble me, then, that Santa was white and Christ and Christmas were offered as white, except for That One of the “wise men,” with role ever slurred, ever understated. (Report From Part One, 43)
When she was young it didn’t bother her that Santa Clause was white, as she grew up and developed her own opinions the world and her own blackness it began to bother her. She feels as though her child is being drawn into a white world in which she cannot escape. This further frustrates both the reader and the main character. She does not understand why she has to be made to feel like she must up to meet the white standards. She begins to feel as though Christmas is the biggest and most important holiday and how a white male symbolizes it. Maud Martha made many of the same implications. When Martha is discussing the holidays she is constantly referring to the stimuli that experiences in terms of color. She talks about Halloween and the yellow burning pumpkins and birthdays and the pink and white candles and ice cream. She talks about the dinner table at home having a white tablecloth also. Brooks’ emphasis on color also works to emphasize the main theme in her works. This is again the issue of race and color and how color plays a major role in how we go about our every day lives. The extensive use of color also helps to emphasize in the readers mind the underlying issue that is ever present throughout the book. This is the issue of the writer wondering why it is considered better to
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Gwendolyn Brooks, Maud Martha, American literature, Pressure, Discrimination based on skin color, American poetry, Literature
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