Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Analyzing "Sadie and Maud"

Sadie and Maud

By Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks

Maud went to college.
Sadie stayed home.
Sadie scraped life
With a fine toothed comb.

She didn't leave a tangle in
Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chicks
In all the land.

Sadie bore two babies
Under her maiden name.
Maud and Ma and Papa
Nearly died of shame.

When Sadie said her last so-long
Her girls struck out from home.
(Sadie left as heritage
Her fine-toothed comb.)

Maud, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.
She is living all alone
In this old house.

The poem Sadie and Maud by the phenomenal poet Gwendolyn Brooks was written in the forties when ideals and expectations for women were more enforced and precedent to follow. In a very contemporary fashion she compares two sisters by emphasizing their lifestyle choices. Sadie, meaning “ Princess” in Old English lives a life unapologetically when she breaks all the ideals and standards that have been put forth for her to follow by society and the hegemonic groups that determine what those standards are. Sadie bore two babies out of wedlock which, back then was a big taboo for any women to do let alone, an African American one such as herself who is already looked down upon due to her skin color. Sadie demolishes the gender roles that have been ingrained in society by going into motherhood without a husband therefore, “ Putting Ma, Pa, and Maud to shame.” In the Poem it states that, “ Sadie scraped life
With a fine toothed comb.She didn't leave a tangle in. Her comb found every strand.
Sadie was one of the livingest chicks. In all the land.” Sadie is evidently unfazed by the ridicule and lives life without missing a single strand, in other words taking life for what it is and loving every minute of it proving that going against society is at times acceptable and even necessary to be truly happy.

Maud the other sister, is the individual who follows the societal rules by being very meek and mousey. The dominating hegemonic groups have set forth very strict gender guidelines that must be followed and Maud does just that throughout her life. But at the end of the poem it is determined that, “Maud, who went to college,
Is a thin brown mouse.She is living all alone.In this old house.” Maud is a prime example of the fallacies that come with the misconception that following rules and socially constructed guidelines does not equate to happiness in the present and in the future. Socially constructed ideals pretty much state that if a women goes to college and gets an education, listens to her parents, and stays within the imaginary moral box she is very likely to be happy in the future. Maud conformed to society and was left to live alone in a house while her sister Sadie who is a rebel ends up happy with two daughters.

Sadie and Maud represent the double bind issue that is present with women in Western Culture. Maud who follows all the socially constructed guidelines ends up alone. Sadie who is happy with her choices and lifestyle is ridiculed by society and is shunned by her own family. The story of Sadie and Maud demonstrate the impossible standards that are set forth for women. Whether you follow the hegemonic ideals or not you will eventually be shunned and looked down upon like Sadie or become alone and unhappy like Maud.

Gwendolyn Brooks addresses many themes in the poem, “Sadie and Maud.” Some mentioned include the issue of women being in a double bind situation, socially constructed guidelines that are impossible and pointless to follow, gender roles that only oppress women if they are not followed, and social and moral expectations that women are to follow during motherhood such as being married to a man when pregnant. The culture that Gwendolyn Brooks represents is the black, feminist, and female community. The culture she stands for is the oppressed and unfairly treated groups. These themes that come into Gwendolyn Brooks' poems help to influence her culture in a positive way. By writing poems such as, “Sadie and Maud” Gwendolyn Brooks is raising awareness to her audience that these themes should not dictate our actions or our lives or even the way we perceive ourselves because they are not factual. She is providing examples and evidence through her poems that socially constructed guidelines are not ideal nor necessary to follow. She is influencing her culture to rise above the false roles that biological essentialism has given to women and to achieve happiness through our own standards and guidelines. By recognizing stereotypes and predetermined prejudice towards women, we as women in the same culture can better recognize fallacies as they occur and rise above them.



  1. In this poem, the author is comparing two sisters's lives. Maud is the smarter of the two sisters and she went to college by her endeavor. However, in the end she was alone and die in the old house. So how to explain this thing? Why it could happen?

    --Anqi Zhang

  2. Well as I mentioned, these two sisters although very different end up somewhat alone or a disgrace according to society. This happens because the social constructions pertaining to women presents a double bind sort of dilemma for female. Maud followed all the rules yet is unhappy because she chose to abide to her gender role while Sadie took life as it came and disregarded all of the gender roles and expectations for her. Even though Sadie is happy society and her own family still treat her like garbage because she broke her role as a women. Maud ends up aline in a house even though she followed all the guidelines set forth for her by the dominating hegemonic groups. As stated in the place that I analyzed sadie in Maud, this is a poem is a prime example of a double bind situation that has been presented to the two sisters and to most women. We are to uphold impossible standards at the risk of becoming unhappy and untrue to ourselves.


  3. Wow! I really like your interpretation of the poem, and I'm glad you chose this poem, simply because I didn't know any of her work and I find this poem particularly interesting. I especially like the fact that she used the word "livingest" during the forties. This poem definitely represents the double bind.

  4. I agree that this poem shows a really accurate view of the double bind, but I don't really agree with your assessment of Maud being "meek and mousey." I actually think that both daughters were, in their own ways, pursuing roads not commonly travelled. Of course, it is obvious that Sadie's behavior would be shocking for the time, but for Maud, as a woman during the 1940's, wasn't it also pretty progressive for her to be attending college? But I do completely agree with your connection of this poem to the idea of the double bind, as both sisters, following two different paths, both ended up forgotten in different ways, with one leaving the fine-toothed comb as her "heritage" and the other fading into history as just another lonely woman.
    In this way, do you think that the poem could also be about history, what we leave behind, and our significance in society? It seems that both sisters were insigificant in the scheme of things and in the scope of society, as life simply moves on without them.
    --Gabrielle Karcheski

  5. First of all great job on the analysis and with tying in the theme of double bind. Gwendolyn Brooks really seems to be questioning the norms that have been in our society for so long. I like how she paints the picture of the two sisters and their very different lives.
    ~Faria Ali

  6. @Laura Michelle, Thank you for the positive feedback on my poem analysis. Gwendolyn Brooks is a great poet and you should check more of her work out. Some of her poems have a contemporary feel to it which I think a lot of people like. I addressed the double bind issue in this poem because it is an ever occuring theme in her work which i think is great because it ties into our class lesson.


  7. @ Gabriella, Well I definitely think it is very progressive for a women to go to school like Maud did in the poem but it is not a bad progressive. Sadie got pregnant out of wedlock and that is more looked down upon than Maud going to school by far. Maud going to school would have been very pleasing to society because it meant she was educated, maybe not the way we are today, but she is still going to school. This poem is based on a comparison of two sisters, so Maud is the one that followed the social constructions more precisely.
    I do agree that part of thus poem is about history but more about the legacy we leave behind and the life we live. Sadie will pass her lively spirit on to her daughters because she lived such a independent and free life while Maud being lonely in a house will not be able to do that and she lived a very constructed sad life. Boh will be forgotten eventually but it is about what you do with your life at the time.
    Thanks for the comments.


  8. @ Faria Ali, I really appreciate your positive comment and you are right Gwendolyn Brooks is all about breaking the social norms and part of that is bringing light to them when it was not so common to do so. She represents the double bind issue in a lot of her poems which is definitely worth it for you to check out so I would encourage you to do so. You would appreciate her poems if you like reading about social norms, double binds. gender roles, and oppression.
    Thanks for the comment.


  9. Nicely done. A wonderful job at taking on the interpretation of the poem on your own. Insightful and shows a lot of work.

  10. How would you be able to characterize the characters as being similar?

  11. What was your inspiration? Politics, feeling or maybe just what you see.

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