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Maya Angelou Speak Up Essay

1558 words - 6 pages

Maya Angelou experienced a life-changing event at the vulnerable age of eight: her mother’s boyfriend raped her. As a result, she chose to be mute for five years due to the emotional trauma this caused. Soon, a family friend named Mrs. Flowers, a wealthy and intellectual woman from Stamps, Arkansas where her grandmother resided, read with Angelou and helped Maya to express herself through writing. Mrs. Flowers taught Maya “words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with meaning“ (qtd. in Nelson). Eventually these poems helped Angelou to find the courage to speak again. Maya Angelou’s poetry contains bold messages and gives a voice to individuals who, at times, do not have the courage or ability to speak for themselves. As critic Harold Bloom aptly comments, Angelou’s literary techniques “enhance the capacity of her poetry to heal, liberate, and empower her readers” (Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: Maya Angelou 130). This idea of empowerment is especially evident in Angelou’s three poems “Still I Rise,” “Phenomenal Woman,” and “A Kind of Love Some Say.”
Angelou’s life is an interesting one, and it leaves readers with little doubt as to why it became the inspiration for many of the themes in her poetry. Angelou was born on April 4, 1928 in St Louis to Bailey and Vivian Johnson. At age three and a half, her parents divorced, and she moved to Stamps, Arkansas to live with her grandmother. According to Afro-American Writers After 1955: Dramatists and Prose Writers, when she was eight during a visit to St. Louis with her mother, Vivian Baxter, “she was raped by her mother's boyfriend, a taciturn ‘big brown bear’ who was found ‘dropped ... [or] kicked to death’ shortly afterward” (Bloom, Literature Resource Center). The source goes on to say that when she went to court she did not reveal that she had allowed her mother’s boyfriend to “fondle” her two times prior to this event. Therefore, she felt guilty when her uncles murdered him and she concluded, "I had to stop talking” (Literature Resource Center). In addition to the hardship of being raped, Angelou experienced getting pregnant at the young age of sixteen. These two events could have had a permanent negative impact on Angelou, yet she took them and grew from them instead. Maya Angelou overcame her hardships to thrive, and as a result, she was able to share thoughts and emotions through her poetry that others may also experience, but do not express.
One of the first poems that demonstrates Angelou’s ability to speak for the disenfranchised in a bold way is the poem “Still I Rise.” The poem could be an anthem against slavery, or it could simply be an anthem for any person who feels as though he or she is being oppressed. In lines 1-4, the speaker seems to comment on behalf of black slaves when she says, “You may write me down in history/ with your bitter, twisted lies,/ You may trod me in the very dirt/ But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” ...

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