The kidnapping and horrific lynching of Emmett Till, a 14 year old African American boy, and the exoneration of his white murderers sparked an outrage across America. Emmett was kidnapped and killed by Roy Bryant and two other men after Roy’s wife, Carolyn, told him that Emmett had made inappropriate advances towards her. Emmett’s death was deemed a race motivated crime and angered many; especially those who had faced discrimination. Gwendolyn Brooks, an African American poet of the time, responded by writing a poem she titled “A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon.” In her poem, Brooks uses Carolyn as the narrator to expose white society and scrutinize southern society’s values. Furthermore, she uses her to criticize the white woman and overbearing white men while condemning the murder of an innocent black boy. In addition, she also shows her belief that the white women should accept some responsibility for acts of violence executed in their name. Brooks exposes this through her ballad which can be viewed as a fairy tale that unravels and concludes with profound revelations.
First, it is apparent that the entire poem is a narrative of Carolyn Bryant where she expresses her thoughts and emotions in regards to how she sees herself, her husband, and Emmett. Throughout the poem, one will notice that Brooks uses names to represent each of them. In the very beginning of the poem she calls Carolyn “the milk-white maid” (Line 6) which tends to make her sound as if she is a sweet and innocent woman in need of saving. Brooks uses “Dark Villain” (Line 8) to represent Emmett and uses “Fine Prince” (Line 8) to depict her husband. This choice of names has a two-fold purpose. First, it exposes the values of the white south; white men and women are considered heroic and innocent while black people are considered evil. Second, it sets the stage for what sounds like a fairy tale. Fairy tales always include a damsel in distress, a villain, and a prince who rescues the damsel from the villain. Moreover, fairy tales always have a happy ending. Brookes contends that Carolyn is the damsel, Emmett is the villain, and Roy is the prince when, in lines six through nine, she states, “Herself: the milk-white maid, the “maid mild / Of the ballad. Pursued /By the Dark Villain. Rescued by the Fine Prince. / The Happiness-Ever-After” (Lines 6 - 9). However, as the poem progresses, one notices that this is not a fairy tale; Carolyn’s feelings begin to change from love to fear to hatred toward her husband due to the guilt she has for her role in Emmett’s death and the fact that her husband was capable of killing a child.
At first, Carolyn loves her husband and is happy that he had defended her honor. This can be seen when Brooks uses the words “The Happiness-Ever-After,” but as the poem progresses one will notice the subtle changes in her attitude (Line 9). For instance, it is insinuated that Roy could lose his temper quickly over the littlest of things. One morning, while making bacon for her husband, Carolyn’s fear is brought to light. Brooks reveals this fear when she states, “Her bacon burned. She / Hastened to hide it in the step-on can . . .” (Lines 13-14). Brooks uses the word hastened to show Carolyn’s fear. She hurried to hide the burnt food in the garbage can so that her husband would not know what she had done. This event shows the reader that Carolyn is recognizing her husband’s ill temper. Out of fear she throws the bacon away because she is afraid of how her husband may react. Carolyn’s fears are further confirmed when Roy acts out violently towards their child. Brooks exposes this when she writes, “The Fine Prince leaned across the table and slapped / The small and smiling criminal” (Lines 90-91). Roy smacked their child across the face at dinner for acting up. Carolyn, who was witness to her husband striking their child, sees blood upon the face of