October 3, 2005
Sadie and Maud, a Critical Analysis
“Sadie and Maud” by Gwendolyn Brooks, is a didactic poem about life, choices, and happiness. The poem follows the lives of two women, Sadie and Maud. Sadie makes what society may consider poor choices, but lives a happy life. Maud, the college graduate, the one with a seemingly propitious future, ends up with a bleak and lonely life. What the poem reveals through the life of Sadie hints at the true source of happiness, and whether or not the choices made are the sole contributors to that end.
The title of the poem is appropriate, “Sadie and Maud”, in the sense that it is truly more about Sadie than it is about Maud; of the 20 lines that form the poem, 15 deal with Sadie and only 5 deal with Maud. Also, it is interesting to note the way the poem is structured; it has a frame. The “frame” is Maud, since it starts and ends with Maud, and everything in-between, the “picture”, is Sadie. It is not the frame that catches people’s eye; it is the content, or the painting inside the frame that is attractive and interesting. Similarly we look at Sadie in this poem as interesting, attractive, and vivacious, while Maud we see only peripherally, and not with any sustained interest.
At the start of the poem, there are two simple sentences that right away separate these two women, Maud and Sadie: “Maud went to college. /Sadie stayed at home” (Brooks 1-2). From these first two lines, there is a distinct and different impression that the reader forms about each of these two characters. Of Maud who went to college, there is a suggestion of success and of a promising future. But for Sadie, it is the opposite; especially the use of the word “stayed”, in “stayed at home”, gives the reader a feeling that Sadie will not be as successful as Maud, and hints at her life possibly becoming more vapid and stationary. So immediately, these two disparate notions have been connected with each of these two women, but the ironic twist in this poem is that this initial snap-judgment ends up completely surprising the reader. Sadie, the one who “stayed” at home, end up with a more vivacious and interesting life, while Maud, with the seemingly auspicious future, ends up with a rather prosaic existence, “living all alone / In this old house” (Brooks 19-20).
The poem also has a very powerful message about stereotypes, the stereotypes that readers or society bring to this poem. Sadie makes what ostensibly seem to be the wrong choices, the first being not going to college, and the second, having 2 children outside of marriage. Society, depicted in the poem as “Maud and Ma and Papa” (Brooks 11), is deathly ashamed of Sadie. As a reader there is a similar, deprecatory sentiment towards Sadie. Maud, who from the little the reader knows about her, makes “good” choices. However, the poem leaves the reader with a sense of extreme pathos for Maud.
It is at the end of the poem, on the last stanza that the reader gets a glimpse into the future of Maud—the one initially earmarked for success. Maud does not become successful. In fact, the author does not compare, but rather, equates her to a “thin brown mouse” (Brooks 18). This image of an attenuated brown mouse, does not suggest a successful mouse, but one that is starving and barely hanging on to life. The last line compounds this derelict image of Maud, “She is living all alone / In this old house” (Brooks 19-20). The use of the word “house” does not have the same warm connotation that the word “home” has. Instead, it adds to this image of desolation and lifelessness that we are left with at the end of this poem.
There is no clear source of Maud’s fault or any explanation for why she ended up with such a bleak future. In fact, the reader knows very little of Maud, apart from the fact that she is college educated. But as for Sadie, we do know what she did right. Sadie went after life with passion. The poem states she “scraped life / With a fine-tooth comb” (Brooks 3-4) and was one of the “livingest chits / In all the land” (Brooks 7-8).
The poem ends on a bitter and sad note. However, it is the bitter and sad, and the less than sanguine, that often grabs attention. Sadie is an iconoclast. She dispels the spurious notions that society has on what it takes to be successful. She proves that ultimately, success is not solely based on going to college; it is not solely based on doing what is expected, but instead, it is more basic than that. Success is simply being happy.
Gwendolyn, Brooks. "Sadie and Maud." The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Michael Meyer. New York: Bedford St. Martin, 2000.