Preet Vimalbhai Bhagat
16 April 2019
Maya Angelou is an admirable activist that is best known for her contributions to the African American Civil Rights Movement and for her masterly poetic works. “Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism” (Oprah Winfrey). With the same attitude as her good friend, Winfrey, Angelou wrote a poem called “Still I Rise” to speak for the minority voices and to reveal the crime of discrimination. She wisely used her talent in literature to condemn the injustice. The poem contains a rich variety of literature devices including figurative similes and many allusions which perfectly convey Angelou‟s spirit and poetic soul to readers.
“Still I Rise” presents a deep insight into the reality of a black female ‟s strifein 1950‟s America (“Still I Rise – Sample…”). Angelou‟s poetic inspiration was derived from her life experiences. “Angelou grew up in a small segregated town in the deep South where she had to keep her hopes up in order to survive all the racial hatred” (“Research Papers…”). Her dark childhood was alluded to in the third line “You may tread me in the very dirt” (Angelou). She was a victim of strong discriminations, supplemented by a tough upbringing from her own family, which I believe, formed her harsh and experienced personality as shown in this poem. These identities are apparent when she asks, “Does my sassiness upset you?” and “Does my haughtiness offend you?” (Angelou). Her parents divorced when she was three and she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend at the age of seven (“Maya Angelou biography”). After the man raping her was killed by her uncle, Angelou refused to speak for years because she felt as if her words had taken away a human life (“Biography…”).Ironically, she is now using the power of language to empower those who silently suffering and isolated. Her life is full of relentless miseries. However, at the end of the poem, she sincerely tells us that the hardships she had to endure in the past gave her strength to stand up: “I rise/ I rise/ I rise” (Angelou). The poem is a strong message telling her enemies that she will not allow the embrace of their actions to dictate who she is. “Haters going to hate” and she just simply pushes her greatness in their faces. The poem “Still I Rise” has taught us a brilliant life lesson: Do not let oppression beat you down and never let your past dominate your present or ruin your future!
Although similes are used widely and commonly in literature, as well as in daily life, Angelou has sparked interest in her readers by making unique comparisons. Angelou applied most similes in a witty way to show her confidence and positive tone in this poem such as “„Because I walk like I’ve got oil wells/ Pumping in my living room” (Angelou). It would be considered a ridiculous joke at that time that a black woman was wealthy enough to have oil wells (“Still I Rise – Sample…”). Ignoring that bitter fact, she claims that she walks proudly, keeping her head up high as if she was a rich, luxurious woman. This is a very good description of how she carries herself in the crowd and how she is shown to others‟ jealous eyes (“Analysis of Maya…”). Another example is “„Because I laugh like I’ve got gold mines/ Digging‟ in my own back yard” (Angelou). It is the way she would like to laugh at her oppressors, quite loudly and full of satisfaction. They cannot help that they secretly wish they could be like her. “That I dance like I’ve got diamonds/ At the meeting between my thighs?” (Angelou) is a very playful comparison to show her pride in her background as being a black female. She does not actually have diamonds between her thighs. In fact, she is comparing her genitals to diamonds, which is an expensive jewelry (Ratliff). She emphasizes that even though she is a woman, she is worthy and beautiful for her own individuality. Oil wells, diamonds, and gold mines are wealth significations that are used as a measurement for her valuable dignity (“Still I Rise by…”). She truly deserves respect and fair treatment from society. “Shoulder falling down like teardrops” (Angelou) is the only simile used to express her weak moment. Angelou easily captures our sympathy to her inner sadness, disappointment, loneliness and emptiness, but she will not allow that weakness to hold her back and she will continue to fight. Angelou‟s most profound similes describe her wonderful rising up: “Just like moons and like suns”, “Just like hopes springing high”, “But still, like dust, I’ll rise”, “But still, like air, I’ll rise” (Angelou). Like moons and suns, she will rise continuously, every day, with no failure. Like dust, she will rise up after being trampled on (“Still I Rise – Sample…”). Like air, she will rise freely and strongly. Air gives us a sense of uplifting while dust refers to a resurrection. These beautiful similes are repeated to remind us not to give up on ourselves under any circumstances. “Still I Rise” draws more attraction and power through her remarkable use of similes that actualize and express complex emotions.
Allusion is an irreplaceable and important element contributing to the success of “Still I Rise”. Understanding her allusions is very necessary to dig deeper into the meaning of the poem. Angelou used many images which allude to the painful past of her life and her community. The poem’s opening verses “You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies”(Angelou) and these two lines in the eight stanza “Out of the huts of history’s shame/ Up from a past that’s rooted in pain” (Angelou) indicate the fact that colored people had to put up with “special treatment” for a very long time in America. It may also allude to the lies that are spoken behind her back or the misunderstood stereotypes about her culture that have been embedded in everyone’s mind from generation to generation. “The African American’s connection to the past is very much like a wound that must be healed” (“Best Answers for…”). The sixth stanza “You may shoot me with your words/ You may cut me with your eyes/ You may kill me with your hatefulness” (Angelou) is a mixture of hyperbole and allusion. These strong verbs are used to describe the hurtful impacts discrimination left on them (“Analysis of Maya…”). They were harmed and stepped on like small defenseless creatures. They were looked down upon and treated like nothing! “After slavery was effectively ended black people still faced many dangers, many of them were physical but most were in various forms of discrimination and intolerant looks” (“Best Answers for…”). Even though it is not a victorious past, the line “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave” (Angelou) shows her appreciation and honor to her ancestors and what they have accomplished (“Still I Rise by…”). Those previous generations might not have succeeded in achieving freedom, but their contributions should not be forgotten. In contrast to past generations, allusions located in the last stanza are more likely referring to the incredible growth of black people and their hope for a brighter tomorrow. “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear/ I rise/ Into daybreak that’s wondrously clear / I rise” (Angelou) imply Angelou‟s triumph in personal growth and the African American community in general (“Analysis of Maya…”). They will step into the new world, become successful, and hold their heads up high fearlessly. They will write a new glorious chapter in history on their own. Angelou‟s allusions insist on the truth that no matter what, they will break the chains of slavery and rise up to freedom eternally!
Maya Angelou has successfully navigated our emotions from anger and created a sense of pride, empowerment, and optimism through this poem. Although “Still I Rise” deals with an extremely sensitive issue in our society nowadays, Angelou has ingeniously created a sympathetic feeling and connection to her readers. Anyone, despite race or gender, who has experienced discrimination in different ways can relate to this poem. It is no more an opinion from the perspective of a single person; Angelou has spoken for all the minorities. Furthermore, the strong message portrayed in the poem should be a motivation for all of us. Originality, confidence and independence are the primary key to the treasure of life. Personally, I was impressed by Angelou‟s strong refusal to give up another limitless passion to rise. Humans have so much potential that they need to realize and take advantage of. Our world is too small to discriminate. A lifetime is too short to love everyone in this loveable planet, so why do you hate?