Tag Archives: analysis

“Maxie Allen” by Gwendolyn Brooks

Maxie Allen always taught her
Stipendiary little daughter
To thank her Lord and lucky star
For eye that let her see so far,
For throat enabling her to eat
Her Quaker Oats and Ceram-of-Wheat,
For tongue to tantrum for the penny,
For ear to hear the haven’t-any,
For arm to toss, for let to chance,
For heart to hanker for romance.

Sweet Annie tried to teach her mother
There was somewhat of something other.
And whether it was veils and God
And whistling ghosts to go unshod
Across the broad and bitter sod,
Or fleet love stopping at her foot
And giving her its never-root
To put into her pocket-book,
Or just a deep and human look,
She did not know; but tried to tell.

Her mother thought at her full well,
In inner voice not like a bell
(Which though not social has a ring
Akin to wrought bedevilling)
But like an oceanic thing:

What do you guess I am?
You’ve lots of jacks and strawberry jam.
And you don’t have to go to bed, I remark,
With two dill pickles in the dark,
Nor prop what hardly calls you honey
And gives you only a little money.

Without doubt, this is one of my favorite poems. I like, especially, how the nursery-school-like ¬†rhyme scheme is aided by complex, nuanced words like “stipendiary.” The whole point, I think, is to show how simplicity is forced on childhood by adults like Maxie, who creates this very corporeal narrative for her daughter to follow. Meanwhile, the truth (or something?) that Annie’s searching for is much more advanced, though not unconcerned with specifics like “two dill pickles” as they relate to her position in life as a whole.

ETA: This poem is also very gendered, though I ignored it in my original comment. Specifically, Brooks juxtaposes overly-simplistic and saccharine references to Annie’s gender (“little daughter,” “sweet Annie”) against the complexity of her situation (“stipendiary,” “tried to teach her mother”). This method, much like the one discussed above, mocks the oversimplification of young females’ experiences. The title of the poem, “Maxie Allen,” is as intentional as that of the section it is found in, “The Childhood and the Girlhood.” Annie’s age and gender play huge parts in her experience (having her “heart to hanker for romance” explained so pedantically, for example). But it is also clear that this unsophisticated construction is not dependent on Annie’s capabilities but rather her mother’s–and by extension, her society’s–unassailable¬†doctrine¬†on how children should be raised.

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