All through history, segregation has been apparent amid races.Obstacles amid whites and blacks have persisted for years. In theperiod of white supremacy, African-American’s lives were symbolizedby unfairness and minimal opportunities. It was an era of black’sinferiority compelling African-Americans to tolerate numerousinjustices, as well as discrimination. Discrimination was an outcomeof white tradition where blacks were compelled to becoming servile,and passive because of the customs deeply entrenched in an unfairsociety. The sole manner African-Americans would become respected wasby voicing their concerns and fighting for their rights. Maya Angelouwas a black female born during historic America when discriminationbecause of race was widespread. The discrimination worsens by beingfemale in a chauvinist society, where women were regarded as inferiorto males.
Angelou uses poetry as a tool to fight for equal treatment insociety regardless of age or gender. Her poems are an illustration ofher life and that of fellow black women. The poetry captures theissues of conflict in the milieu of post colonialism. Angelou’swriting is a type of painful procedure of remembering her unbearablechildhood, because she was a woman, in specific a black woman. Shehas a broken past, which she uses to depict to fellow women on how tosurvive in an unbearable society. Using the poems Caged Bird,Equality, Phenomenal Women and Still I Rise, thepaper evaluates the politics of power in Angelou’s poetry, as wellas her endeavor to free individuals from the racial and sexualprisons.
Investigation of the Afro-American marginalized experience
In Afro-American writing, gender is a major sign of resistance,unifying the notion of female and black. Angelou is anAfrican-American female with her unique expression of the actualworld. She employs poetry to depict her disparity, lack of power anddowngraded position as major images in an Afro-American community(Ghani and Naz 98-99). Angelou’s poems are a representation of theexperiences she faced when growing up. It is apparent that she isexposed to too much marginalization as a young woman.
The Caged Bird is a dramatic depiction of Angelou’s lifefrom childhood. At the age of three, Maya and her brother leave theirparents to live in the segregated stamps of Arkansas. It is duringher stay there that Maya experiences what it feels like to be a blackwoman in a white and male dominated society. Illustrations of femalemarginalization in the poem include the instance when Maya’sgrandmother takes her to the dentist. The white male dentist refusesto treat her because she is black. He also takes advantage of thefact that Maya’s grandmother is a woman and knows that she can donothing in forcing him to pay back her money. In another case, duringMaya’s graduation, a white man’s speech is filled withdisheartening words, which discourage blacks noting that they cannotget good jobs, and that they are merely good in sports. Just becauseshe is a woman, the white man’s speech depicts his disregard forfemales. As the poem begins, Maya notes the doom of being female in aracist and sexist community. She notes that black females face doubledilemma from both white and male groups. This is explained throughher rape ordeal at eight years, where her mother’s boyfriend rapesher just because she is a woman, despite being merely a child(Braxton and Maya 80). Angelou’s representation of rape picturesthe actual suffering black female face due to male exploitation offemales through sexual mistreatment.
In Equality, Angelou evaluates how females have beenmisrepresented in numerous manners. The poem is about demanding fairtreatment for women, both from society and males. The poem is anotherreminder of a woman’s bitter past in a society that fails torespect her place. A society, plagued with inequality and disregardfor others due to gender and race (Gerbe 6). In the poem, Angelourefers to the word ‘free’, which she says will be achievedthrough equality. The Phenomenal Woman is a poem describing awoman that realizes her sexuality. Contrary to what men perceive asbeauty, Angelou brings out a different beauty, which women mustembrace of accepting themselves as they are. She notes that one doesnot have to be slender to be accepted as a woman. Contrary to whatwomen have been made to believe an ideal woman should look like, thepoet notes that women are attractive in their own uniqueness. Thepoem instills hope in women reassuring them that they can become whatthey desire regardless of being subjected to torture, abuse andneglect, which Angelou has overcome. In Still I Rise, the poemis an endeavor at overcoming sexism and women oppression. The poem isrooted in the past of blacks, where slavery is evaluated. The poememploys a compelling metaphor on overcoming oppression. Angelouraises questions related to “sassiness, haughtiness and sexiness”,which are phrases referring to women. The phrases depict a woman thathas decided to overcome female marginalization in her society.
Figurative language and imagery
The use of figurative language as well as imagery are powerfulwriting tools, which further explain the issue of gender and race inAngelou’s poems. Still I Rise – the poet employs organicimagery to explain her inner sensation. The lines from the firststanza depict sadness and misery. Readers are able to feel the poet’ssadness. Angelou highlights the unfairness she faces from thosearound her, as she is unappreciated and treated harshly. Despite theharsh society, the speaker progresses in life with a positivementality. In the concluding lines of the first stanza, the phrases“I’ll rise” are employed in insisting that she progresses tohave a high moral and motivation to push on with life, despite theracism and feminine marginalization faced (Hagen 128). The third lineof stanza two likens employs visual imagery to liken the character tosomeone with oil wells. It is an invitation into the life of acharacter that has been subjected to racism, gender unfairness, butstill feels that she can make her life better. She is aware of heridentity referring to herself as a “black ocean” to mean she isAfrican-American. Figurative language used included the phrase “Irise” as a sign of strength. The phrase indicates something thewriter must rise against, which is gender inequality and racism inher society. The phrase sassiness helps the reader to comprehend thatthe character in the poem is a female. Hence, it is possible torelate her sufferings to those faced by women in historic America. Inthe eighth stanza, Angelou employs figurative language through thephrase huts symbolizing her weakness. In specific, the huts of shame,arising from her history, which makes the reader, understand she hashad a bitter past.
Equality – the speaker employs visual imagery to drawreaders in comprehending the character’s condition. The firststanza is an apparent description of how whites view blacks. Thefirst and subsequent lines the whites are described as seeing thenarrator unclearly, inconsiderate of their existence. This impliesthat whites consider the narrator as a weak female (Gerbe 7-8).Kinesthetic imagery is apparent in the eighth stanza where thespeaker talks about her tempo. The reader is able to feel the angerexpressed by the narrator, as she demands equality amid whites andblacks. Figurative language is explicit through the symbol drum. Itdepicts the instrument employed by the speaker in revealing theirfeeling, as a woman demanding for her rights within society. Verbalirony is also apparent in the poem as the speaker taunts whites byasking them to remove the padding and blinders. It insinuates thatwhites are deaf and blind, and so are males who never hear the criesof black females to stop racism and marginalization.
Phenomenal Women – the narrator utilizes visual imagery onthe initial line as she describes her pride and admiration of heroutward appearance. The first stanza draws readers to envision thespeaker’s physical features (Rahmawati 40). It is apparent that herfeatures do not resemble those of white women, which may cause men toridicule her. Unlike white women, she is not slender. Organic imagerydescribes the happiness in her feet, showing that although people maynot like how she looks, she is proud of herself. In this case, peoplerefer to white females who ridicule the appearance of black females.Figurative language is apparent using metaphor in the second stanza’sline where she likens movement to a hive of bees. The bees refer tomen who look at her as she walks past them. A different figurativelanguage is the use of metonymy in the initial line. The phrases“reach, span and curl” symbolize what she lacks in her body,which she positively accepts making her a phenomenal woman. The poememploys simile in likening the black female to whites. The line “Iwalk into a room, just as cool as you please” compares her walkingstyle to whites (Rahmawati 41). She intends to demonstrate that shecan act in the similar manner as whites hence, questioning why blackfemales are marginalized due to their racial identity.
Caged bird – the gifts given to Maya and her brother acts asthe imagery employed in the poem to enlighten on the issue of genderinequality and racism. The mother sends Maya a teacup set, whichcompels the reader to question why as a poor girl she requires thegift. However, later in her writing Angelou evaluates thesenselessness of marginalized black girls endeavoring to acquireVictorian ideals regardless of their conditions. This means that dueto the marginalization and racism black girls’ face, they endeavorto liken their lives to those of whites so as to fit in society. Theother gift is a doll, which is white and has blonde hair. Itrepresents a white woman, in line with Maya’s fantasies from thestart of the novel, where she desires to become a white girl. Herdesire arises from the disparity in treatment amid blacks and whites.Maya’s dream of becoming white demonstrates that she is incapableof fighting racism. However, she learns to accept herself and beginsto fight for her rights as a black female. Figurative writing isapparent in the use of narration. The poem narrates the life of youngMaya with reflection of her before and now. The reader is able todetect that the narrator and character discussed are the same person.The narrator ensures the reader understands the challenges faced byMaya as she was growing up in a racial and chauvinist society.
Literary analysis of the poems demonstrates that they talk about thelife of African American females. The women live in a historic periodwhere women are marginalized and racism is widespread. The narratoris strong and confident, traits that have been shaped by her pastlife. From a young age, the poem’s speaker experiences a society,which is unfair and marginalizes women. As she becomes older, sherealizes that she is capable of changing her life. In Still IRise, the narrator appeals to women to rise against allchallenges they face and better their lives. It is apparent that thecharacter has faced many challenges attributed to her gender. This isworsened by the fact that she lives in a society where she isconstantly compared to white women. The phrases “I rise” are areminder of the need to keep improving one’s life and remainconfident to attaining a better life. The speaker employs imagery todescribe the woman as self-reliant, brave and confident. This meansthat being white does not make one a woman, rather embracing one’sidentity.
The poem Equality is about a brave female demanding for herrights. The narrator equates equality to becoming free. The poemillustrates a character that has been treated discriminatively anddemands to be treated equally. In the poem, Angelou convinces womenon the need to become brave. She uses brevity to convinced themarginalized that it is possible to rise against society prejudice.This is because brave individuals are capable of fighting for theirequality. It also demonstrates that marginalization can be eliminatedby promoting equal treatment. The Phenomenal Women appeals towomen not to compare themselves with other people. The narratorcommunicates that people are different and it is impossible for blackfemales to resemble white women. Thus, one would rather accept theiridentity, which is a step ahead in ensuring that others appreciatethem. As is with the case with the narrator, she depicts confidencein her walking and looks, which draws males. She does not care whatothers state about black females and believes that having bodyfeatures that resemble those of whites is not the sole manner tobecoming socially acceptable.
The poem Caged Bird manages to give voice by employing thelife of Maya as an illustration that individual can rise againstsocietal discrimination and achieve what they desire. To resistoppression, people must remain steadfast in what they believe isright. For instance, when the white male states that, blacks cannotget good jobs, Maya is determined to get herself a good job.Regardless of the challenges and many times she fails, she remainsdetermined in achieving what she believes in, and works hard. Forinstance, she manages to become a streetcar conductor, acting as acivil rights freedom (Braxton and Maya 84).
Braxton, Joanne M, and Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou`s I Know Why theCaged Bird Sings: A Casebook. New York, N.Y: Oxford: OxfordUniversity press, 1999. Print.
Gerbe, Kathrin. Presentation of the Problem of Racial and GenderEquality in Maya Angelou`s Poetry. München: GRIN Verlag GmbH,2007. Internet resource.
Ghani, Mamuna and Naz, Bushra. Race, Feminism and Representation: AnInquiry Into Maya Angelou’s Poetry. International ResearchJournal of Arts & Humanities 35 (n.d.): 95- 106.
Hagen, Lyman B. Heart of a Woman, Mind of a Writer, and Soul of aPoet: A Critical Analysis of the Writings of Maya Angelou.Lanham, Md: Univ. Press of America, 1997. Print.
Rahmawati, Dian. The Image of Black Woman in Three Poems of MayaAngelou. A Thesis: Letters and Humanities Faculty, State IslamicUniversity, (2011): 1-60.