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In ‘Still I Rise’ by Maya Angelou, identity is presented by the writer, knowing and accepting her identity. She doesn’t ever second guess it and learns to love it. The poem shows a woman who gets dragged down by society because of her identity but rises above it and won’t hide it.
In ‘An Unknown Girl’ by Moniza Alvi, identity is presented as a chasm between two cultures, one Indian and the other western. The poem shows a woman’s journey through India and she’s trying to hold on to her Indian identity which is in danger of being overrun by the western identity.
The writer in ‘Still I Rise’ presents identity as something to be proud of and to embrace, something not to be ashamed of. Angelou also celebrates and is proud of her previous identity and her victory over the shameful past. ‘You may trod me in the very dirt’. She purposefully misspelt tread as trod.
This shows the use of the technique sensational spelling, where words are spelt incorrectly on purpose for effect. Angelou used this because it shows her association with her ancestors as they most likely didn’t get a good education and she wants to embrace her identity and not abide by the correct form and hierarchy at the time she wrote the poem. ‘Out of the huts of history’s shame, I rise’.
This shows the technique of emotive language as she is helping the reader tie into the emotions she feels.
She uses this to show the shameful past of her ancestors but also her victory over that past that is still a welcome part of her identity. ‘I rise. I rise. I rise.’
These are the closing lines of the poem that show a movement from one identity of fear into one of victory. The technique of anaphora of the phrase, ‘I rise’ at the end is an emphasis of the celebratory rallying call and is highlighting the move into a new identity. One not of slavery but of freedom. She is living the fulfilment of her ancestors’ dreams for them to be able to have a life and she wants to make them proud. This shows how the writer presents the fact that identity is something to embrace and is at the core of her existence.
The writer in ‘Still I Rise’ also presents identity as your personality traits and the way you act defines you. ‘Does my sassiness upset you?’. The technique used was a rhetorical question which makes the reader think about a topic while reading the poem.
She is asking all the people who dragged her down like racists and misogynists if her personality traits offended them but in fact, she doesn’t care if it does because it is part of her and her identity and no one can change it. ‘Does my haughtiness upset you?’. This is also a rhetorical question. She is asking her oppressors if they way she acts upsets them but doesn’t expect a response. ‘
Does my sexiness upset you?’. This is another example of a rhetorical question, which she used repeatedly in this verse. Also, sarcasm is used in all three of these quotes as she doesn’t really care what she is asking them but pretends to do so. ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines diggin’ in my own back yard’.
This is an example of a simile as she doesn’t actually have gold mines in her back yard but has the pride and confidence as if she did. This shows how identity is presented as how you act and your personality.
The writer in ‘An Unknown Girl’ presents identity as a part of you that you can gain but also lose. ‘I have new brown veins’. This technique is a metaphor as she did not literally have brown veins.
Alvi uses this technique because the veins symbolise the henna which is part of the Indian culture but also veins are a part of you and they carry your blood so Indian culture is part of her blood and therefore part of her identity and she gained that in India. ‘I’m clinging on to the firm peacock lines’.
The technique used is also a metaphor as she wasn’t really clinging on to anything and repetition as it is repeated. A peacock represents beauty, pride and confidence and happens to be the national bird of India, so she is clinging on to all the beauty and pride of her Indian identity and she is afraid to lose it because she says, ‘It will fade in a week’.
When she takes off the henna and returns to the western country, her Indian identity starts to fade away as she has left India. Identity is therefore portrayed as something that is made stronger by her being in the land that she could attribute that identity too.
The writer in ‘An Unknown Girl’ also presents identity as something that changes and cultures that can co-exist together. At first, she describes her henna as ‘a peacock spreads its lines across my palm’. But then describes it as ‘Reveal soft as a snail trail the amber bird beneath’.
This technique is an example of a simile, as she is describing something as something else. She uses this because it shows the mix of both her western identity and her Indian identity mixed together to become who she is, and the identities never truly vanish but are stronger depending on where she is.
A peacock is bright and colourful, but the colour amber is mellow and soft which shows a mix between bright and dull. ‘For curtain cloth and sofa cloth’. Alvi uses this to show how cultures sometimes merge together and get influenced by each other so therefore your identity can get influenced by changing occurrences.
Like people who cling to sides of a train’. This is an example of a simile. This is used because although cultures co-exist together they still have individuality. A western country wouldn’t have people clinging onto trains so therefore your identity can have individual parts. This shows how identity is presented as something that changed.
In conclusion, identity is presented by the two writers as a personal issue that is dependent on many factors and specific to each individual. In ‘An Unknown Girl’ it is something that can be gained or lost due to different circumstances and in ‘Still I Rise’ is something to embrace, nothing to be ashamed of and portrayed by the way you act and your personality.
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