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Imagine how it would feel to have someone of another race speak at your graduation and put your race down. This is the story of “Graduation” written by Maya Angelou. In this story we see how a young black girl awaits with great pride and anticipation her graduation day. When the day finally arrives, her dreams and expectations are shadowed by the speech that Mr. Donleavy, a white man, gave to the graduating class of 1940. At the end of the story we see how the class valedictorian, Henry Reed comes back with encouraging words that help the entire audience become alive and feel like they were on top again.
Maya Angelou used a very important literary
element in this story called tone.
Tone is the attitude the speaker has towards themselves, their subjects, and their audience. In this case the speaker in this story is the young black girl. In the beginning of the story the black girl speaks with pride and self-confidence.
She thinks very highly of herself when she states, “…I was going to be lovely. A walking model of all the various styles of fine hand sewing and it didn’t worry me that I was only twelve years old and merely graduating from the eighth grade…” The joy in her voice is felt when she stated “…my work alone had awarded me to a top place and I was going to be one of the first called in the graduating ceremonies. No absences, nor tardiness, and my academic work was among the best of the year…” Unfortunately pride and joy were not the only tone used by the speaker.
In the middle of the story we see the girl angry and disappointed at the outcome of her graduation. As I described in the introduction, Mr. Donleavy addressed her graduating class with continuous remarks about the white class. He went on to say that “…the white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileo’s and Madame Curies and Edison’s and Gauguins …” The young girl couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Graduation, hush-hush magic time of frills and gifts and congratulations and diploma, was finished for me before my name was called. The accomplishments was nothing. Donleavy had exposed us …” In this sentence we can actually feel the frustration and anger she felt. At the end of the story we see how her mood changed from being angry to feeling proud of herself and her race once again.
This was the outcome of a poem read by her class valedictorian, Henry Reed. “The word of Patrick Henry had made such an impression on me that I had been able to stretch myself tall and trembling and, I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty or give me death …” In this sentence the young girl feels proud to be black and to be part of the graduating class of 1940. She put aside all the awful remarks made by Mr. Donleavy and rejoiced with the encouraging words given by Henry Reed. She was proud of her race and proud to be graduating due to her full academic accomplishments.
In conclusion the story of “Graduation” was very interesting. It was able to fully demonstrate the literary element of tone. In my opinion, the message in this story is that we should all be proud of who we are, what we do, and where we come from. Pay less attention to what others say or think about you, and worry more about what you think and what you want to accomplish.
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