Author

Lori Bird

Date of Award

8-2004

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Advisor

Ben Friedlander

Second Committee Member

Laura Cowan

Third Committee Member

Margo Lukens

Abstract

Gwendolyn Brooks' first published book of poetry, A Street in Bronzeville, 1945, shows the effects of war and poverty, crowded kitchenette apartments and unfaithful spouses, abandonment and abortion, and domestic abuse and prejudice on the people who live on one unnamed street in a black neighborhood in Chicago known as Bronzeville. This thesis seeks to show that the women and men of Bronzeville idealized beauty and that this idealization was shaped by derogatory messages delivered through both the white and black-owned media. More importantly, this thesis seeks to examine the poetry of Brooks in which, years before black was "beautiful," she began to question and critique this idealization. The topic of beauty has produced much research, but this examination focuses on three factors which have not been considered together: beauty's place in the culturally significant geographical location of Bronzeville, Brooks' own words for beauty and her use of beauty industry terms, and the perceptions of beauty popular in the 1940s conveyed by articles and advertisements in black periodicals based in Chicago, like the Chicago Defender and Ebonv Magazine, In A Street In Bronzeville Brooks presents female beauty as a commodity and a social control that is manipulative, complex, and limited by time and place. To understand this presentation the first chapter of this thesis focuses on the historical importance of the neighborhood that was Bronzeville, defining beauty through this cultural history, and reading the history with Brooks' poetry. The second chapter delves fiu-ther into the cultural history of beauty and includes a twenty-page photo essay, which highlights images from magazines and newspapers popular in Chicago during the 1920s through the 1950s. The third chapter looks beyond Bronzeville to the poetry and words of Brooks' next two books, Annie Allen (1949) and Maud Martha (1953) to understand how the critique of beauty that began to take rise in the poetry of Bronzeville was to be a central topic to Brooks as her career progressed.

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