Maya Angelou was born an African American. One would feel the agony she went through to be born as such and in America. Her grandmother was raped and bore a child; this child later came to be her mother. Similar to the ferocity her grandmother experienced, she was raped as a child by her mother’s boyfriend who was later on killed by her uncles. Because of this, she didn’t speak for almost six years afraid that her words had killed the man. This must be the dawn of her path to being a writer, realizing that words are powerful.
If it could kill then it could give life as well. When her parents divorced, her grandmother took good care of her and her brother Bailey, Jr. and it was him who called her Maya. She became many things: a dancer, a cable car operator, a singer, a waitress, and where she flourished, a writer. The turn of her career came when she went to Egypt and Ghana. She went back to America to support Malcolm X’s Organization of African American Unity but he was assassinated. The struggle of the race continued as she supported Martin Luther King, Jr.
who was also assassinated defending the African American cause, this made Maya Angelou devastated. She never stopped working for the emancipation of the African Americans and continued writing for equal rights and liberty. And so, in 1993, she read ‘On the Pulse of Morning,’ at President William Jefferson Clinton’s inauguration at the White House. Her words are valuable to the nation. Her words influence men of power. Her life is interesting which produced works that are priceless to the American people most especially to the African Americans of whom she dedicated her efforts to for their emancipation.
Angelou’s style of writing categorized her works in the genre of autobiographical fiction because of her writing styles in dialogues, characterization, development of theme, setting, plot and language. But for her, these are simply autobiographies. She speaks through her writing what she has learned or learning out of life. In her interview with Mike Schneider in Bloomberg TV, she talked to all women as her daughters for her book, “Letter to My Daughter”.
She speaks to them how a woman surpasses an incident in life as she would, given a similar situation. She writes to all the women as her daughters, sharing with them her story like she was one with them. In the poem, “I Know Why the Caged Birds Sing”, one would feel between the lines how an African American feels in the land called America. The words are simple and yet powerful in the sense that it deeply triggers emotions from the reader. These are deep sentiments of an enslaved race, wanting to be free but “the bird’s wings are clipped”.
Feelings of being held while the other birds are free: is something that she has undergone while the whites enjoy the liberty of being part of their race. A critic named Lupton, considered Angelou’s writings as autobiographies for they contain the elements of such: written by a single author, chronological, and they contain character, technique and them. Although, there are parts that are fictional, the elements necessary for an autobiography are present. Angelou has the tendency to go to the direction against the convention of what an autobiography is.
She used the first person singular, “I” in talking about “we”. She is placed among the African American autobiographists but other writers insist that she has created a different kind of interpretation of the autobiographical form. The book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, became an acclaim containing the sentiments of the black people. She wrote it out of a challenge by Robert Loomis, her editor, for her to write “high art”. African American literature is more challenged in such that the authors have to agree about the status of their writings on whether it’s “high art”.
O’Neale considers Angelou’s poetry a “more expected ghetto expressiveness” and she also avoids a monolithic Black language. The bird was used as metaphor that is struggling to set itself free from its cage. The cage that incarcerates the creature represents “oppression” of the African American people. It must be emphasized as well that Angelou doesn’t intend to isolate the white people. She wanted to promote the relevance of diligence so as to change the concept of laziness among African Americans. At the latter part of the 1960s, one of her goals was to create a book that satisfied the criteria, “organic unity”.
According to English literature scholar Valerie Sayers, her poetry and prose are similar because of the episodes which are done like a series of short stories, but they do not follow a chronology of events. Her prose and poems are both in “direct voice”, which are characterized by steady rhythms with lyrical patterns that use figures of speech (similes and metaphors). Hagen has mentioned that Angelou’s works were influenced by the African American community’s literary and oral tradition. She uses the “blues” music and literary characters in testifying about her life and hardships, with the use of metaphors, rhythms, and intonations.
Angelou’s one of the most important themes are “kinship”, this has something to do with her parents abandonment of her and her brother, her relationship with her son, husbands and lovers all throughout her books. She discusses the value of family relationships of how it can affect development of a person. She spoke of her paternal grandmother who prophesied of her being a teacher when she intentionally went mute. Telling her that she would be a teacher someday but how could that happen if she does not speak.
In most of her books, “motherhood” is predominantly manifested based on her experiences as a single mother, a daughter, and a granddaughter. Like in the book, “Letter to My Daughter”, she dedicated this book to all women pondering on their life experiences. She delivered words of wisdom to soothe and give directions to their souls. When asked if she would say the same things to her son or sons, she said it would be different. She would never know how it is to be a man. If she would write something for her son/sons, it would be through the perspective of a woman.
Her plot often surrounds in this motif – mother & child. “The woman who survives intact and happy must be at once tender and tough. ” – Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now (1994) She is an embodiment of strength and wisdom. This is where she gets her tenets from – the experiences she has gained from childhood up to the present which molded her to become a woman whom people listen to. For Scholar Mary Burgher, African American women autobiographers have rejected the stereotyping of roles as “breeder and matriarch” of their kind and they are being presented as “creative and personally fulfilling”.
Maya Angelou also wanted to deliver the message that women are more than the purpose of bringing forth children. Women are valuable beings in society as much as men are. In her books, women are winners and are brilliant who have overcome hindrances of racial discrimination. She has been influenced greatly by her relationship with her grandmother who died early in her third autobiography, “Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas”. Momma (Angelou’s grandmother), is quoted in the whole book.
“I write because I am a Black woman, listening attentively to her people”. Maya Angelou, 1984 She has greatly contributed to the emancipation of the black people in America working alongside with Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Went through devastation because of their deaths but continued on the struggle of her people. She continued to express the pains she goes through as a black woman through her music and poems. Using her gift in expressing through words her thoughts and struggles, unified the very same sentiments of all the black people in America.
Her experiences especially from childhood gave her the foundation she needed to become who she is now. Everything that transpired in her life was a message she depicted in all her books. She resisted racial biases and protested outright to effect change in American society. She mentioned in her interviews when asked if she was angry, she said, “I am angry but I am not bitter…”, reiterating that anger was necessary to express indignation to the unjust treatment towards the black people. She emphasized, however, that she is not bitter.
There is a difference between those two. She used anger to advance the cause of African Americans but made sure there is no bitterness in her heart. Works Cited Hagen, L. (1997). Heart of a Woman, Mind of a Writer, and Soul of a Poet: A Critical Analysis of the Writings of Maya Angelou. Lanham, Maryland: University Press. Lauret, M. (1994). Liberating Literature: Feminist fiction in America. New York: Routledge. O’Neale, S. (1984). Reconstruction of the Composite Self: New Images of Black Women in Maya Angelou’s Continuing Autobiography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.