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Survival of the Fittest

The image of life we are often presented with in todays society is a life of fame and
fortune, when in reality, the real world is a cruel and competitive place. Most people can agree,
life in this world is tough, and some of us do just enough to get by in the day-to-day routine. In
this essay, Gwendolyn Brooks The Bean Eaters and Katha Pollitts The Old Neighbors will
be compared and contrasted over many content areas. Brooks and Pollitts poems will be sifted
through content areas such as setting, symbols and rhythm to determine the similarities and
differences between the two.
Brooks poem, The Bean Eaters is the shorter of the two poems but holds just as much
meaning as the other. The setting of the poem takes place in a small room or apartment where
two elderly people reside. The room is not clean, nor is it in good shape, with cluttering things
from vintage dolls to cigarette ashes to the floor screeching every time they step on it. Brooks
gives us many symbols to piece together in her poem, one being the significance of beans. Hence
the name, this elderly couple seems to live off of beans, which symbolizes the poor and povertystricken situation the partners are living in. To build on this image of messy poverty, Brooks
continuously mentions the different things absorbing space in the room. This poem does not have
a set rhyming rhythm, but some lines do rhyme (like the first two), helping the words to flow
nicer into the next section of the poem.
In The Old Neighbors by Katha Pollitt, a somewhat enlightened scene of a speaker
observing over people living out their lives. The setting takes place in Manhattan, New York as
the speaker observes others performing their everyday tasks. This poem is much more involved
in the characters story and meaning rather than objects. A main point Pollitt is trying to portray

is that each person has his or her own goals, whether its a daily or life goal, they work through
the difficult times. Much like the couple does in The Bean Eaters, folks make due with what
they have and they engage the struggles ahead. Like The Bean Eaters, this poem does not have
a specific rhyming pattern but it occasionally occurs every other line, which seems to propel the
reading into the following sentence anticipating another.
Both poems portray the importance of working through the struggles of life with what one
has with whom one loves. The subject does not have to rhyme or be setting-specific, as long as
the determination and perseverance to get through each day is represented, the reader gets the
point the poems represent. If one found him or herself in the situation of the bean eaters, would
he/she work towards a better life or give up on trying?

Works Cited
McMahan, Elizabeth. "Paired Poems for Comparison." Literature and the writing process. 10th
ed. Boston: Pearson Longman, 2012. 680-82. Print.