How Maya Angelou Addresses Bigotry in Her Poem Still I Rise

May 3, 2022 by Essay Writer

In the poem ‘Still I Rise’, Maya Angelou describes and addresses the bigotry, racism, and hatred that have been directed at her, her gender, and her nationality throughout history. In the first stanza, Angelou’s persona states that the history of the black American population have been written down in history with “bitter, twisted lies”. In this quote, she refers to the fact that African Americans have often been portrayed as a savage, inferior, primitive race in history books, and how they were often characterized as buffoons or bumbling idiots. Angelou says that despite these misrepresentations and oppression in history, she and many others will “rise” like dust. This smile is very important, as Angelou states that although her race has been portrayed in history like dirt, or dust, they will still “rise” and achieve success, equal rights, respect and much more in modern society, just as dust always rises, no matter how much it is trodden on. This simile causes the reader to feel the determination that Angelou feels about her inevitable “rise”, her refusal to be oppressed, and her resolve to achieve equal rights and success for herself and others of her nationality.

Another example of how Maya Angelou addresses these criticisms is in the second stanza, where her persona asks us, the audience, why we are “beset with gloom” and if her sassiness upsets us. Angelou directs these rhetorical questions at racists and misogynists and uses these questions to criticise, ridicule, and mock them, as they point out the absurdity of racism. What reason do we possibly have to be upset at Angelou’s self confidence or personality? Angelou’s persona also says that she walks like she has “oil wells pumping in her living room”. Angelou uses this simile to tell the audience that she is successful and important, just like how oil wells are extremely valuable. This simile tells the audience that Angelou does not think less of herself than anyone else, and that she is worth as much as anyone else of any other nationality despite the misrepresentation of her nationality and gender.

One more example of Angelou addressing criticism is in the fifth stanza, where Angelou states that “you can shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may cut me with your hatefulness, but still, like dust, I’ll rise”. In this stanza, Maya Angelou refers to how terribly her race and gender has been treated in the past, with them being referred to as second class citizens, forced to work as slave labor, and being segregated from other nationalities. Just like in the first stanza, Angelou reacts to this by saying that no matter how much abuse is thrown against her, she and her race will “rise” like dust, achieving the equal rights and respect they deserve. In this poem, Maya Angelou creates a persona that refutes criticism directed against her and her race and is determined in her goal to achieve equal rights and respect for minorities and women. Angelou uses various similes and rhetorical questions to deliver a clear and powerful message about the struggle to overcome prejudice and inequality.


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