Exploring Tone in "Graduation" by Maya Angelou

Categories: Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou's "Graduation" provides a poignant portrayal of a young black girl's anticipation and subsequent disappointment on her graduation day. This narrative unfolds against the backdrop of racial tension, as the speaker navigates pride, anger, and ultimately, a renewed sense of identity. One crucial literary element that Angelou adeptly employs in this story is tone.

The Prideful Tone of Anticipation

As the young black girl eagerly anticipates her graduation, the narrative begins with a tone saturated with pride and self-confidence. The girl envisions herself as a "walking model of all the various styles of fine hand sewing," expressing not only confidence in her academic achievements but also a pride in her appearance.

She believes that her excellence in academic work has rightfully earned her a top position in the graduating ceremonies. Her joy is palpable as she revels in the prospect of being recognized for her dedication and accomplishments.

However, pride and joy are not the only tones present in this narrative, as the story takes a dramatic turn during the graduation speech delivered by Mr.

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Donleavy, a white man.

The Shift to Anguish and Disappointment

Much to the girl's dismay, Mr. Donleavy's speech takes an unexpected and hurtful turn, overshadowing the celebratory atmosphere. He repeatedly emphasizes the opportunities awaiting the white students to become influential figures in various fields, leaving the black graduates feeling marginalized and disheartened. The tone shifts from anticipation to anger and disappointment, as the girl expresses her frustration, feeling as though her graduation has been tainted by racial biases.

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The culmination of this disappointment is eloquently captured in the girl's realization: "Graduation, hush-hush magic time of frills and gifts and congratulations and diploma, was finished for me before my name was called. The accomplishment was nothing. Donleavy had exposed us." This profound expression encapsulates the profound impact of tone on the emotional journey of the protagonist.

Transformation Through Encouraging Words

Amidst the despair, the narrative takes a redemptive turn with the arrival of Henry Reed, the class valedictorian. He recites a powerful poem, invoking the words of Patrick Henry, "Give me liberty or give me death." This moment serves as a turning point, transforming the tone from anger to pride. The speaker feels a renewed sense of identity, proud to be black and part of the graduating class of 1940. Henry Reed's encouraging words counterbalance the negativity of Mr. Donleavy's speech, allowing the girl to reclaim her pride in her race and academic achievements.

Conclusion: Embracing Identity and Accomplishments

In conclusion, Maya Angelou's "Graduation" masterfully employs the literary element of tone to depict the multifaceted emotional journey of the protagonist. From the prideful anticipation of a significant milestone to the anguish and disappointment triggered by racial biases, and finally, the transformative power of encouraging words, the narrative navigates complex emotions. The overarching message emphasizes the importance of embracing one's identity and accomplishments, regardless of external prejudices. This poignant exploration of tone encourages readers to reflect on the power of pride, resilience, and self-determination in the face of adversity.

Updated: Dec 01, 2023
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Exploring Tone in "Graduation" by Maya Angelou. (2016, Jun 24). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/graduation-written-by-maya-angelou-essay

Exploring Tone in "Graduation" by Maya Angelou essay
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