Maya Angelou born Marguerite Ann Johnson on April 4, 1928, is an American autobiographer and poet who has been called “America’s most visible black female autobiographer” by scholar Joanne M. Braxton. The poetess presents in ‘Still I Rise” the average black American woman who rises like the phoenix each time she is bent by oppression. The typical Black American would be willing to break rather than bend. Here, she triumphantly asserts with conviction how she continues to rise with renewed vigour.
History is said to bear testimony to the events of the past and the character of a person. Nevertheless history is quite often produced from the biased view of the individual historian, and most of the time is distorted. Indeed, the pen is mightier than the sword. However, Maya Angelou declares that she will rise from history that may “pin her in coruscating prose.” Though she is subject to bitter, twisted lies, and though she is trampled in the dirt, she will rise like dust. She endeavours to touch everything with her personality, just as dust touches everything on its way, by it presence. She reminds one of the celebrated Uzbek poet Boborahim Mashrab who asserts: “From the dust of my shirts edge there will rise hundred thousand gods”.
The poetess claims that what is to others an impression of her sassiness, is actually the expression of her individuality. The onlooker seems to be beset with gloom on her over-confidence that sends out signals that she has got oil resources “pumping” in her living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
She puts in a series of natural images like the sun, moon and tides that have the capacity to rise again and again. The sun being symbolic of ‘rays of hope’, the moon ‘love’ and tides of ’time’. Therefore time, hope and love inspire her to rise from the atrocities and inflexible circumstances of life.
The practice of Apartheid is prevalent in America too as it is the most developed country in the world. In such an instance, the whites cannot digest the superiority of the blacks. The assertion of even their personality would be a threat to the average white. What do these people then exactly want? Do they want the blacks to be bent by oppression in order to avow the whites’ pre-eminence. The blacks are denied the privilege of eye-contact, and are expected to keep the head bowed (in unwarranted shame) and keep the eyes lowered. The “phrase “lowered eyes” may also point to the whites’ conception of the black as possessing no insight. The shoulders seem to sag bearing the burden of oppression of generations. As the black is denied expression, the shoulders seem to drop like tear-drops do.
The poetess maintains that her ‘haughtiness’ upsets the others. What might be normal behaviour for a white, may considered to be haughtiness for a black. The difference in ethics is echoed here. Her crime is that she laughs as though she has goldmines in her backyard. The reference to ‘oil’,’ gold-mines’,’diamonds’ are suggestive of rich natural resources dug up deep in her. Her beauty lies in this secrecy, this enigma. This is precisely why the poetess utilizes the word “back yard” and not ‘front yard.’
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
The speaker tells the spectator that he may kill her with his gaze, shoot her with his words or kill her with his hatefulness. In spite of these, she will arise relegating all worldly taunts where every action is analyzed and every motive criticized. Even the assertion of her sexuality comes as a surprise as though a black is a sexless creature, devoid of individuality.
She eventually rises out of the ‘huts of history’s shame.’ She manages to rise above the past poverty and the shameful behavior they have been accustomed to. She towers over the past mingled with pain. Now she is as elaborate and abundant, and wide-spread as the black ocean leaping, welling and swelling. These are natural reactions thus, very much like her. Yesterday’s nights of terror and fear are left behind, as she moves towards the daybreak that brings rays of hope and sunshine into their lives. The gifts of the ancestors are brought back- primarily though “the dream and hope of the slave”. A former Miss.Universe once said:”A man is not poor ifhe does not have a penny. He is poor if he does not have a dream. So, to live, he must have a dream.” Therefore, the power of dreaming and aspiration is the inspiring force that helps the writer to rise time and again from her predicaments.
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