"The Ballad of Late Annie" is one of several poems from Gwendolyn Brooks' "Notes from the Childhood and the Girlhood" section of her book Annie Allen. Published in 1949, Annie Allen, a mock epic of an African-American girl growing up in a time of increasing social tension, illustrated the existence of a black struggle that did not break into the American mainstream until the birth of the Civil Rights Movement ten years later. It is comprised of four different parts; "Notes from the Childhood and the Girlhood," "The Anniad," "Appendix to the Anniad," and "The Womanhood." In "The Ballad of Late Annie," Brooks introduces her anti-hero Annie, a childish, proud girl.
In "Notes from the Childhood and the Girlhood," we see Annie's immaturity and idealism. Her childish nature is evident when she disrespects her deceased relative by sticking out her tongue while peering over the coffin in the poem "Old Relative." Annie asserts her pride and self-respect in "The Ballad of Late Annie."
In the next section of the book, "The Anniad," Annie assumes the role of an anti-hero "Whom the higher gods forgot,/ Whom the lower gods berate" (Brooks 38). From the beginning, it is clear that the epic is not a mockery of Annie, but is instead a sympathetic comment on her desire to improve upon her predetermined role in society. "The Anniad" begins with description of Annie's romantic vision; she is "Watching for the paladin/ Which no woman ever had" (39). Instead of waiting for this knight in shining armor, however, she weds a "tan man" equipped with "intimidating teeth," whom she later calls "narrow master" (39). When the tan man goes off to war, Annie is filled with fear that he won't return, but when ...
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...nnie is "almost thoroughly/ Derelict and dim and done" (49).
Annie's absolute confidence is clear in the last stanza when she describes the perfect man for which she will save herself. In order to win her heart, he will have to be "gist and lacquer;" her ideal mate is just and durable like glossy lacquer. Furthermore, she will not settle for someone who will not be able to provide her with the finer things in life, represented by "melted opals" and "pearl-leaf." The poem concludes in an optimistic tone, and the possibility of Annie finding a good man appears to be strong. This romanticizing is a crucial element to the understanding of Annie Allen in its entirety because it sets the stage for the depression and devastation of her spirit that are evident in the later parts of the book.
Brooks, Gwendolyn. Selected Poems. New York: Perennial, 1999.
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