Society Does Not Define Beauty in Phenomenal Women, a Poem by Maya Angelou

The art of poetry is normally used in a very creative way to establish a certain message or theme that the writer believes in. This message is usually a simple one delivered by the use of figurative language. In the poem, “Phenomenal Woman" by Maya Angelou, the use of literary devices helps to develop her message that society does not define beauty, but it is the way one carries herself with confidence that does. The poem consists of repetitions, alliterations, and imageries, all contributing to the main idea, and helping to make it better.

An excellent way to emphasize a certain point is by using repetition. By repeating something over again, it stresses the importance of it. Maya Angelou uses this technique a lot in the poem to help describe what real beauty is, compared to how it is perceived to look. In the middle of each stanza, there are four lines (each saying different things by stanza), that repeat the same structure.

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For example, in the first stanza, Angelou talks about all the different things that make the woman beautiful when she writes, “It's in the reach of my arms, the span of my hips, the stride of my step, the curl of my lips” (lines 6-9). Throughout each stanza, the words are always different; however, the structure still remains the same. By doing this, each time with a new attribute, the author is highlighting the different things that make the woman beautiful in her own way, as well as what it is about these things make them beautiful.

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Repetition is also used at the end of each stanza when the closing lines are always, “I'm a woman, phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that's me” (lines 10-13, 26-29, 42-45, 57-60). This is done so that the reader is constantly reminded of what the poem is really about. Especially since these very words are repeated, it makes them stand out more, therefore adding importance. By repeating these key details and ideas, it will help readers understand the main message that beauty is something that radiates from within.

Similarly to repetitions, the use of alliterations is another way to stress the significance of an individual idea. By using the same sounding letters in a row, it adds a distinct sound from the rest of the phrase or sentence, therefore helping it to stand out as an important or linking thought. The very first line of the poem uses an alliteration to jump into what the poem is about. It begins by talking about what socially acceptable people don't see in someone such as the woman in the poem. The author writes, “Pretty women wonder where my secret lies” (line 1). Alliteration is used on the letter W. This sentence provides a clear hint to the readers that the woman in the poem is not society's vision of beautiful. This is shown when the reference to pretty women is made. They are left wondering what it is about her that makes her so confident. The alliteration is used to draw more attention to this. The second alliteration is used in the same stanza, following the first alliteration. It is in response to the pretty women who want to know what her secret is when the author writes, “But when I start to tell them, they think I'm telling lies” (lines 3-4). Here, there are two sets of alliterations. The first one is: start to tell; the seconds is: them, they think. This alliteration is used to, again, draw attention to the point that is being made. The women wonder what it is that makes her beautiful, yet when she tells them, they don't seem to understand and think that she is being dishonest. It seems utterly impossible for society to believe that someone who isn't that beautiful could possess the traits that she has, that make her so desirable and poised. Alliterations help core ideas stand out more against everything else to bring out the importance of what they are trying to get across.

The final way to convey the message of society not defining beauty is through the device, imagery. Throughout the poem, Maya Angelou is always using different types of imageries that can help the reader to actually visualize and imagine what is going on. In the last stanza, Angelou is giving final reasons as to what makes the woman beautiful when she says, “It's in the click of my heels, the bend of my hair, the palm of my hand, the need for my care” (lines 53-36). Here, there is audible imagery, and visual imagery. When she is talking about the click of her heels, the reader will start to hear that, and try to pinpoint exactly what the heels would sound like. Because the point of the poem is to describe all things that make the woman beautiful, the sound that the reader makes in their head will reflect that, and they'll try to think of a sound of such elegance. When the reader reads the line talking about the bend in the woman's hair, an image of long, wavy, flowing hair would probably be one option that crosses their mind. All this is helping to provide the reader with a sense of what truly makes a woman beautiful. Another example of imagery is in the second stanza when the author is addressing how men feel about the woman. It says, “The fellows stand or fall down on their knees” (lines 17-18). What the reader sees here is an image of men dropping to their knees in awe of the woman before them. She is not beautiful, yet they are all intrigued with her. Imagery is a powerful tool when trying to deliver a message. Here, readers could picture what was going on and it helped to show that it doesn't matter what society sees in a person, but what that person sees in herself.

In conclusion, Maya Angelou wrote this poem, "Phenomenal Woman", to emphasize that beauty is not owned by society, and it is all in the way a person holds themselves with poise that makes them truly beautiful. By using the literary devices repetition, alliteration, and imagery, she was able to express this message to her readers. They help to show that good looks aren't the only thing that goes into making a person beautiful. To rightly claim beauty, one must fully accept herself for who she is, and be confident in herself, because with that, society will never look down on her.

Updated: Feb 12, 2022
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Society Does Not Define Beauty in Phenomenal Women, a Poem by Maya Angelou. (2022, Feb 12). Retrieved from

Society Does Not Define Beauty in Phenomenal Women, a Poem by Maya Angelou essay
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