Gwendolyn Brooks’s twelve sonnet sequence, “Gay Chaps at the Bar,” has been interpreted as affirming national and racial allegiance, particularly to the “double-V campaign” during World War II. I argue, however, that ambivalence over allegiance is the main concern in the poems. This ambivalence emerges as the soldiers attempt to reconcile three competing allegiances (to country, to the community of African American servicemen, and to their personal integrity) that battle within each poem’s speaker, paralleling and exacerbating the physical sufferings of war. The soldiers’ divided feelings when they return from the war are augmented by Brooks’ sonnet forms: the sonnets approximate traditional expectations but simultaneously resist the structures to which they conform. Cumulatively, the layers of mixed allegiances pervade the sonnets with doubt, even to the point of distrust for organized movements to protest institutional segregation in post-war society.


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pp. 36-57
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