Still I Rise
Importance of Knowledge in Still I Rise Poem
Character education is not only expedient, but essential, because “Knowledge gives you power, character respect” (Lee 46). The fundamental traits that develop children into healthy, moral and successful beings are not only directly taught, but also caught on indirectly through interactions with people, events in life and, literature. “Still I Rise” is a poem by Maya Angelou, civil rights activist, author, writer, and poet. The poem itself is about Angelou ending up on top against many forces, such as her own history and background, and those who dislike her for her stellar character traits. The poem’s theme of self-respect, confidence and persevering through a struggle is also prevalent in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean-Louis “Scout” Finch and Jeremy “Jem” Finch grow up in Southern America in the 1930s. Their coming-of-age story is one filled with adventures and experiences, some which exposes them to the rough and unpleasant society. Racism, poverty, unemployment, domestic abuse, and sexism are all issues very prevalent at the time. Atticus Finch, the father of the two children, although not a mogul, had dealt with these issues first hand, and remain determined to continue taking the path he believes to be morally correct. This decision allow his children to receive a good moral education, but also often put him in undesirable and hapless situations. One such example of this occurs when he defends Tom Robinson. Atticus know it is unlikely for Tom to win, yet he do what he could within his capabilities, putting a together a logical and rational argument base on the evidence. Tom Robinson do not win, but Atticus would not be able to live with himself if he had not try, shown when he states: “They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” (Lee 54-57)
When Atticus chose to defend Tom Robinson, his reputation change, people start treating him differently: children at the school taunt Scout that her father is a “nigger-lover.” An attempt on his children’s life is made. He is spat in the face. What do not change was the type of man Atticus is. One with prodigious amount of self-respect and dignity as well as tolerance and understanding of those around him.
Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” also describes her struggles. Like: “You may write me down in history, with your bitter, twisted lie,” (Angelou 1-2) or “you may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes” (Angelou 21-22) and “Did you want to see me broken?” (Angelou 13) Yet she triumphantly rises above all those that wanted to see her destroyed. She then responds by displaying how harmless the insults are and how unaffected she is, rather cheerful, confident and full of pride. She displays her incredible self-respect, rising back up despite in whichever way she was hurt, because she also has the confidence to believe she is strong and capable and have a purpose, and whatever thrown at her cannot be allowed to affect her.
The two pieces of literature are both written in the 1960s when the Civil Right Movements are taking place. A time when people rises above racism. Both To Kill a Mockingbird and “Still I Rise” includes the theme of self-respect, confidence, perseverance and follow the righteous and virtuous path one believe in. This does indeed seem like a good maxim to follow, as Maya Angelou and Atticus Finch are both very well received because of what they do, which shaped who they are.
Main Motives and Ideas of Still I Rise Poem
The late Maya Angelou was an African American poet, author, civil rights activist, director, actress, singer, dancer, and composer. Although Angelou was a multitalented woman, she gained fame via her writing. Growing up and aging through an era when civil rights were becoming a prominent American issue is what inspired much of her poetry, including one of her most famous works “Still I Rise.” The poem is call to African-Americans to be brave and fight for their rights despite facing adversity. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou is the best overall representation of her body of work because it contains elements seen in the majority of her poetry, which includes rhyme scheme, figurative language use, repetition, poem structure, diction, commonly used theme, and subject.
To summarize the poem, Angelou focuses most of the stanzas on mocking the efforts of the racist people (to whom her poem is addressing) that were intended to destroy her as a person, only to retaliate with the fact that they made her stronger as a person in her fight to achieve equality for African-Americans. Equality is a common subject that Angelou incorporated in her poems because she was an avid civil rights activist her entire life. She organized benefits centered on her work as an actress and a director that would fund civil rights groups (“Maya Angelou Biography”). This is one of the main reasons why “Still I Rise” is the best representation of her work as a whole: because civil rights were one of the most honorable causes that she supported in her life. The majority of her poems were based on the theme that racism is a force to be reckoned with that must be fought against by people taking a stand.
In addition to the common theme that Angelou utilized throughout her poetry, there are other elements of “Still I Rise” that make this poem indicative of being the best representation of Angelou as a poet her work has to offer. When looking at a range of her work, it can be concluded that she typically arranged her poems loosely around the abcb rhyme scheme, with some gaps depending on the poem. This is present throughout all of “Still I Rise” until the last stanza, and is also present in Angelou’s poems “Phenomenal Woman,” “Woman Work,” “Million Man March Poem,” “Equality,” and “Human Family.” An underlying subject matter that may not be apparent at first glance is that of feminism. The narrator is a woman, and her comments directed at combatting racism include a secondary message that women who are in the same situation as she is should have the right to feel powerful and confident no matter what the situation at hand may be. Angelou’s poems “They Went Home,” “Phenomenal Woman,” “Men,” “Woman Work,” and “Momma Welfare Roll” all focus on the subject of women and gender relations. This, in addition to civil rights, was one of the most common topics Angelou wrote about.
Despite her sheer lack of consistency with writing in a specific structure, one of the loose generalizations that can be made about the way Angelou liked to write was that her free verse style typically consisted of a few quatrains mixed in with long stanzas of no patterned arrangement whatsoever. This format is present in “Still I Rise” as well as most of her other poems. Another defining aspect of Angelou’s work is her use of figurative language, especially similes and metaphors. Comparisons play a key role in “Still I Rise,” because they are universal tools that help emphasize the meaning of everything from the joys of being a woman to the feeling of being rich. Repetition is another favorite of Angelou’s; the repeating of a word or phrase stresses the importance of the message a poet is trying to communicate, like she does with “I rise” in “Still I Rise.” Such repetition can be found in some of Angelou’s other works, such as “Phenomenal Woman,” “Million Man March Poem,” and “Equality.” Lastly, an element that is found in most of Angelou’s work is her unique use of diction. For those who have heard her speak, Maya Angelou had a very elevated, sage tone of voice that, despite the words she uses, makes anything she says sound like formal diction even though it’s not. What makes her diction so interesting is that the written words in a poem are informal with a moderate amount of dialect and slang that makes the poem relatable and easy to understand. However, even though the speaker speaks this way, the content of her poetry creates a tone that puts the speaker in a position of wise authority, as though their worldly knowledge trumps the informal way they speak, just as Angelou herself speaks. Her voice is in every poem she writes, despite any character she creates to tell a story.
Beginning the explication with the first two quatrains, the narrator immediately calls out the “you” that she is addressing throughout the poem. “You” embodies the persecution of African-Americans, the people who spread lies and mistreated them. The establishment of “you” is extremely important, because this poem has such an excessive amount of taunting, borderline cruel mockery that if an inherently evil force were not determined from the start, the narrator could risk being perceived as arrogant. Luckily this is not the case, since the historical context leaves little room for modern readers to harbor any sympathy for “you,” knowing who “you” is and what “you” is responsible for. The end of the first quatrain is an important one, because it is the first instance of figurative language and repetition: “But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” From a cultural critical standpoint, this is the beginning of the development of the role model that the narrator grows to be through the course of the poem. The purpose of the poem is to liberate African-Americans, and through this, Angelou makes the character of the narrator into a role model by providing examples such as this that demonstrate hardships that she had to face but was able to overcome by stating “still, like dust, I’ll rise.”
The next two quatrains harbor a specific type of simile/metaphor usage that is seen throughout the rest of the poem as well. In this poem, the narrator compared her actions of rising to things found in nature or natural occurrences of human emotions. In this section, the narrator sees rising as “Just like moons and like suns.” Throughout the poem she references rising to be “like dust” and “like air.” In other cases, she compares her actions to oil, teardrops, tides, gold, diamonds, and even calls herself a “black ocean” at the end of the poem. These nature references are strong assets to the role model character of the narrator, because they compare her thoughts and actions to worldly, heroic, beautiful acts of nature that appeal to everyone. The fourth stanza further mocks “you” by questioning, “Did you want to see me broken? / Bowed head and lowered eyes? / Shoulders falling down like teardrops. / Weakened by my soulful cries.” Clearly, according to the narrator, these meager efforts were all for naught because nothing can prevent her from rising.
The next quatrain contains one of the greatest similes of the entire poem: “’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines / Diggin’ in my own back yard” which is coupled with an earlier simile “’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells / Pumping in my living room.” What’s so genius about these two is that gold and oil are symbolic of wealth, which was not common amongst African-Americans. The fact that she used symbols of wealth in order to convey to “you” how happy she is insinuates that she finds “you” to be selfish and materialistic, since she clearly thinks they can’t understand the meaning of true happiness unless an abundance of riches at one’s fingertips is compared to it. The best part about these, however, is that in reality she doesn’t need the wealth of oil and gold to feel happy and empowered like “you” does. Finally, after all the cultural empowerment, the poem comes to a feminism reference through the use of repetition. In the beginning of stanzas two, five, and seven, the narrator repeats a modified question (“Does my [insert noun here] [insert negative verb here] you?”). While not exclusively feminine, “sassiness,” “sexiness,” and “haughtiness” are typically perceived as a female character trait. In a timely context, these traits were usually publically negative traits to have, and yet the narrator defends her possession of these traits because she is a powerful woman that has the confidence to take pride in everything she is because that’s what makes her happy. She couldn’t care less that “you” may have a problem with her womanly features, because in her mind it shouldn’t have any affect of them unless they let it. Now, this message of pride could be applied to any group of people in the proper context, but because the narrator is a woman and describes feminine features as ones that aren’t shameful, this message is directed towards women.
The last two stanzas consist of a quatrain and a lengthier stanza. The quatrain harbors another perfect simile that implores women to be proud of their gender. While this poem is mainly intended to be a source of hope and inspiration for African-Americans, Angelou is able to effectively incorporate messages intended for women like this next simile: “That I dance like I’ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?” The diamond between her thighs is something that she is perfectly content with, as reflecting by her dancing out of joy for having it. The final stanza alludes to America’s past period of slavery by “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear” because “[She is] the dream and hope of the slave.” Overall, the most significant aspect of the final stanza is the constant repetition of the phrase “I rise.” So much meaning is contained in such a small phrase; it reinforces Angelou’s message of hope and strength throughout the poem. Usually it is strategically placed after a verse with some indication of pain and suffering in order to counteract it. Rising is key to the whole point: if nothing else can come of an effort to be free, one must rise. No matter what, rising is crucial because it is how everyone will overcome the hatred and cruelty. Everyone must follow in turn if they want to be free.
For the entirety of the poem, Angelou maintained the abcb rhyme scheme with the exception of the last stanza, and applied her special brand of diction that combines formal with informal. The informal part of it is reflected through the use of words written in dialect, such as “’Cause” and “Diggin’.” Because of these words, Angelou clearly intended for the tone of the narrator to be that of an everyday, relatable Jane Smith plucked from the street. However, words such as “beset” and “certainty” are thrown into the mix in order for the narrator to surprise the readers as being smarter than she initially comes off. With this, the subject matter of the piece contributes to a reader’s perception of the narrator as being a sufferer of things unbeknownst to us, which automatically elevates the narrator to a position of higher knowledge. This provides the narrator with a sage, seemingly formal tone despite the casual use of dialect.
Assessing the poem as a whole, the theme that remains true to this poem and many other of Maya Angelou’s poems is that racism cannot and will not be tolerated by people who must know that they deserve so much more than what they are given. Women especially have more power than they think; no woman should be discouraged by sexism if they know that they surpass the standards that society holds them to. If one is not willing to rise, then they will get stuck in the mud, unable to escape until they learn to jump over the puddles. What makes “Still I Rise” so representative of Angelou’s work is that it is the embodiment of everything she had in mind when composing her poetry. Every aspect of the poem can be found elsewhere in her other works of poetry. Though it may not be her most famous poem, “Still I Rise” is able to incorporate all of her trademark stylistic elements: abcb rhyme scheme, powerful figurative language, repetition, free verse structure, informal diction, subject matter pertaining to women and civil rights, and a theme that encompasses the majority of her work.
M. Angelou’s Poem Still I Rise: Thoughts of a Black Woman Regarding the Society She Lives In
The poem I selected was Still I Rise written by Maya Angelou in the 1970’s. Angelou shares her thoughts and responses on how she feels as a Black woman is seen by society. She encompasses the feelings of not being able to be anything but Black. Society constricts her to those two labels, stripping all humanity from her. She asks her audience questions like “Does my haughtiness offend you?” and “Do you want to see me broken?” pointing out the contradiction in her oppressor’s beliefs. She states in the poem that she is extremely resilient, not allowing any negativity, especially microaggressions affect her.
I believe this poem qualifies as a piece of “literature of resistance” because it resists the urge to conform to society’s stereotypes and assumptions about the Black woman, where she cannot be delicate but she cannot be wild. It resists the abilities of others to label her and restrict her worth, causing “Black” and “woman” to be just two meaningless words. I know it is resisting it because not only am I living that experience myself and watching others live it more extensively, I see in her language with powerful phrases like: “
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.” -Maya Angelou
“Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.”
“Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?”
Angelou cleverly uses those phrases to refers to the robbing of the goods and treasures of her homeland into things she and others have repossessed in different forms throughout the years, like happiness and hope. Angelou is truly inspirational with her successful attempt at resisting the social “norms” and “expectations” of Black women throughout society. She encourages others with her words leaving them with the message that still, they rise.
Stylistic Analysis of Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
An Analysis of “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou
This poem has no plot; it is not telling a story in the traditional sense, with a rising action, climax, and resolution. Instead, it is an expression of how the narrator feels and how she behaves in response. She asks an unknown person or group of people, likely her enemies or critics, if she is upsetting them with the way she acts. She states repeatedly that she will rise regardless, and ends the poem by saying that she has become what her ancestors could only dream of. The theme of “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou is to remind the reader to remain confident and to not be ashamed even when others look down upon you or those like you.
It is clear from the very first stanza that this poem is meant to stand up against those who aim to crush you:
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
She is saying that even if they try to tarnish her legacy with false statements and treat her as if she is worthless, she will not let it impact how she sees herself. Just like dust rises after being stomped upon, she will do the same. She does not mean “You may trod me in the very dirt,” (3) in a literal sense. Instead, she uses it figuratively to tell how they treat her with disrespect. However, her optimism makes her believe that their bitterness will only serve to lift her higher, which I interpret as Angelou’s way of saying that what does not kill her will only make her stronger.
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 stanza above supports the same conclusion. They can aim to hurt her with words, glares, and even just hatred itself, yet they will not succeed. Just like in the previous excerpt, figurative language is used to make her point. Clearly, she does not mean the violent verbs she uses literally; they are used to show the goal the enemy has of bringing her down in society, whether as an individual or as an African American. She will, again, rise above it. By saying she will rise, she means to triumph and overcome. Inner strength is the source of her defiance here; she never once mentions outside support. Rebellion against the views of the racists in society or even just her personal enemies fuels the strong and passionate wording of this poem.
This historical context of this piece is very important. It was written in 1978 by an African American woman, which explains why she mentions her ancestors and rising up “from a past that’s rooted in pain.” (31) She is clearly referring to the mistreatment of African Americans in the United States. Although she was born after the time period when slaves were kept, segregation was still rampant in her area as she grew up, as she was born in Missouri in 1928. Being treated like she was worth less than others would ignite a flame in anyone, and this is shown throughout the poem. There is no doubt that she could have identified with how a slave from the past may have felt, still being a victim of oppression herself, which explains why she mentions slavery in line 40. Angelou was also born in a time of great change. The fight for African American civil rights accomplished quite a lot between her birth and the writing of this poem. Such success might have contributed to her confidence and pride in being a black woman. Seeing others act in ways that rebel against the racist society they lived in could have inspired her to act the same way, leading to the creation of this poem. She had simply had enough, and that can be seen when reading this piece.
The organization of the poem can also help the reader’s understanding. Stanzas 1-7 consistently have four lines each. The only two stanzas deviating from this pattern are stanzas 8 and 9, where stanza 8 has six lines and stanza 9 has nine lines. The consistency of stanzas 1-7 shows the reader that the topics included in them are similar. All of them have to do with her personal struggles. However, stanzas 8 and 9 begin talking about her race, explaining that her people have shared this oppression. At first glance, it may seem that the change of the stanzas’ lengths are just used to organize the different parts of the piece, but when one looks deeper, they may also notice that this change in organization could be used to make the reader realize and pay attention to the fact that she is not just referring to herself when she mentions how others try to treat her poorly, and is instead referring to an entire race of individuals who often experience the same issues.
The lines of the poem are mostly similar in length. However, this is not the case, for example, when the author writes, “I rise” (41-43) as stand-alone lines at the very end. These lines are shorter to emphasize that the most important thing is that she will rise above it all, and are almost meant to be read as a battle cry, being repeated thrice in a row. This is the most powerful part of the piece for many. The rhythm of the piece, which is consistent before the last couple stanzas, also changes. Perhaps this expresses that she will disrupt the prejudices of those who oppress her and cause them to leave behind racist stereotypes, changing how they look at African Americans, just like the change in rhythm disrupts the poem. The rhyme scheme also changes a bit at this point, perhaps expressing the same idea. The rhyme scheme of the first stanzas tends to be abcb, while this is not the case in the last two.
The use of literary devices is frequent throughout this poem. One example is the following stanza.
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Saying that she is a black ocean is a metaphor. An ocean has crashing waves and is dangerous for anyone who has not come prepared. This comparison shows that she feels like she is a powerful force to be reckoned with, and is in some ways undefeatable. Any attempts to knock her down will be futile. Nobody can stop the ocean from doing as it pleases, just as nobody can stop her from doing the same. The most frequently used literary device in this piece is repetition. As I’ve stated before, she repeats “I rise” (41-43) thrice in a row at the end, and several times throughout the poem. This is for emphasis, as the whole theme of the poem is overcoming and prevailing no matter the criticism you receive. One other literary device mentioned earlier is Angelou’s use of rhyme. The rhyme scheme is abcb in much of the poem, and I think this is used to simply make the poem more entertaining to be listened to when spoken aloud. Another literary device used is rhetorical questions, such as when she asks, “Does my sassiness upset you?” (4) and “Does my haughtiness offend you?” (17) This is a way to mock those who have something against her in almost a playful way, which is a much different attitude than much of the poem. This shows that Angelou does indeed have a sense of humor, and her ability to laugh in the midst of so much hatred is another indication of her strength. She also makes use of similes, as shown in the stanza below:
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
These similes are used to express just how sure one can be of her prevailing despite what may face her. One should have no less confidence in her than they do of the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening.
This poem does indeed accomplish its intended purpose. It is a poem that stands up to the abusers of the world in a highly effective way, while lifting the abused up in the process. It gives the reader a sense of confidence in themselves, while also reminding them of the struggles other groups have faced or might be facing currently, such as African Americans, if they are not one themselves. I found “Still I Rise” extremely touching because it really makes the reader realize that one doesn’t have to let others’ words define them. One can always rise up, at least by believing in themselves and rejecting the sometimes evil beliefs of others, even when faced with hatred, criticism, and oppression. It has often been said to be Maya Angelou’s greatest work, and I absolutely agree with that statement.
Analysis of Emotional Character of the Poem Still I Rise
“You may write me in history, with your bitter, twisted lies, you may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.” This poem by the late Maya Angelou is used by the University of Phoenix in the video “Still I Rise” as a way to persuade college students into joining their school. This college video advertisement by the University of Phoenix uses heavy emotion and credibility with a subtle hint of logic to persuade its viewers to join their school.
The subject in this video is Gail Marquis. Marquis was born in New York City, New York November 18th, 1954 but spent most of her childhood in Queens. She played basketball when she was young and It did not take her long to figure out her passion for the sport. As Marquis started getting closer to her high school graduation, she contacted colleges herself to get discovered for her talent because there was not any scouts (Miron). The University of Phoenix praises dedication like this in their students. As she started college at Queens Community College in New York she struggled to balance her academic and athletic life. Her coach helped her persevere through this tough time by having her teach kids the game of basketball. This eventually paid off in her sophomore year because she led her team to the national championship and they were the first women’s team to play at Madison Square Garden. In 1976, she won a silver medal in basketball at the Olympics. After her athletic career she decided to head to Wall Street to work in a financial service firm without any formal training. After 30 years of working on Wall Street she decided to get her MBA at the University of Phoenix in 2006 as her last big achievement. In Gail Marquis` lifetime she experienced racism, homophobia, sexism and stereotyping. She rose above it and that showed the viewers that anyone can do anything no matter what they have been through in life. Marquis now challenges students to be dedicated and pursue their goals just like the University of Phoenix does. By featuring Marquis in the commercial the University of Phoenix portrayed their students beliefs, hard work and perseverance through her.
This college advertisement, unlike most college ads relies heavily on emotional persuasion. The whole advertisement is a brief biography on Gail Marquis and shows that even though you may be struggling right now the University of Phoenix will help you “rise” to your potential. As well as, the biography of Marquis, playing in the background is the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou to instill an empowerment in students and give them the motivation to join the University of Phoenix. The ad relates to the LGBTQ community by showing Gail and her wife Audrey Smaltz at a peaceful protest for gay rights. Racism and sexism are not shown outright but are implied because of the time period. The ad has a gay woman of color in an empowered position which can inspire people in similar situations as Gail. Above all this advertisement uses emotion to appeal to its viewers in many ways.
Although this advertisement does not focus as much on logic to appeal to the viewers there is still logic being used. The video is professionally done and is designed in a way that impresses students. It features the famous Gail Marquis and the well known “Still I rise” poem by Maya Angelou as a persuasion technique. As well as being professionally done the video is broadcasted all over television, youtube and many social media sites so it is very popular. The video itself also appeals to students by giving them the visual elements to show how much the University of Phoenix can really shape your life.
This college advertisement is like no other advertisement in the way it persuades its viewers. Compared to most college advertisements this advertisement feeds on pathos other than logos to persuade students to join the University of Phoenix. According to marketingcharts.com college video advertisements that are creatively unique are the second most watched college video advertisements next to humorous advertisements (MarketingCharts staff). What strikes most people about this ad is how realistic it is and how it feels as if you are watching a movie trailer instead of a college advertisement. Most college video advertisements hit viewers with a lot of statistics in the first couple seconds of the video and that can be very overwhelming for the viewer. As well as statistics the beginning of these videos typically give out the school’s name out right and you typically know what the rest of the video is going to be about. This video,however, starts slow and gradually and the viewer is kept asking questions as to what college this is. Lastly it builds up to the finale where they reveal the college’s name, a little information about their top majors and contact information. The biography of the famous Gail Marquis acts as an emotionally empowering persuasion technique by the University of Phoenix and really grasps the viewers attention from start to finish
The University of Phoenix uses heavy emotion and credibility as well as logic to persuade its viewers to discover their school. The biography of Gail Marquis shows that even though you will have challenges in life with the University of Phoenix you will still rise. From the empowering poem “Still I rise” by Maya Angelou to the visual biography of Gail Marquis this video advertisement uses a variety of persuasion techniques to really persuade people into joining their school. Creative and unique college advertisements like these are the ones that will stand out and be the ones that people will want to watch in the future.
A comparative analysis of black poetry In America: Maya Angelou and Solange
Both Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise” (1978) and Solange’s song “Don’t Touch my Hair” (2016) illustrate different stages in the African-American struggle with otherization of their identity. “Still I Rise” iterates many examples of how African-Americans have been oppressed by the dominant white culture, punctuating each example with their ability to overcome each, while “Don’t touch My Hair” develops an extended metaphor between the curiosity and invasiveness of white people wishing to touch black hair and their objectification of black people and towards their feelings and lack of respect for their identity. Both poems employ repetition and a direct dialogue with the dominant white culture to portray different aspects of their centuries-long striving towards equality from slavery and oppression.
Both “Still I Rise” (1978) and “Don’t Touch My Hair” (2016) make use of voice to convey their messages of resistance against the different forms of oppression offered by the the dominant white culture (hereafter referred to as DWC) as described in the poems. The voices in both poems are remarkable in that they both address the DWC directly, referring to it in both poems as the “you” with whom the narrator is directly speaking. While the ‘You”of the earlier poem is repeated stridently at the beginnings and ending of lines to punctuate the author’s theme, the “You” of the later poem is the implied “you” of commands, as in “[You] don’t touch my hair.” In both poems, the voice of the narrator bounces back and forth between directly engaging the dominant white culture with a critique and reprimand, and either reflecting in a kind of soliloquy (“Still I Rise”) or addressing an imagined circle of listeners of fellow African-Americans, who understand the speaker’s concerns.
While both poems are thematically concerned with serious injustices in African-Americans’ treatment, there does seem to be some progress in empowerment in the voice. The 1978 poem challenges the DWC to reflect on its motivations for several instances of oppression, but the other, which was written 35 years later, assertively rebukes the DWC for its infringement on personal space in trying to touch hair as a infringement on identity. The author do this to not only focus the reader’s attention on their criticism of the injustices that there cultures have been served, but on the buoyancy of African American Identity and their ability to survive.The powerful echoes of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech (1963), which established repetition as a central trademark of African-American elocution, are heard in both poems. Repetition in these poems provides a powerful musical cadence that leaves thematic points ringing in the listener’s ears thereby leading them to ponder about the poems ideas. “In Still I rise. Maya Angelou uses a complex cycle of repeated accusations (“You May____”), interrogations, “Does My ______?,” and affirmations “Still I Rise” to tell the centuries-old story of African -American relations with the DWC, each repetition hammering in the renewed frustrations of a different generation in the same struggle. “Don’t Touch my Hair,” on the other hand, repeats the stern admonition, “Don’t Touch” to the DWC to treat the identity of the narrator with more respect, the repetition itself suggesting the listener’s difficulty in understanding what is being asked. The aspects of black identity the DNC listers are being asked to respect are enumerated in the various aspects of the extended metaphor being drawn by Solange.
In both poems, the repetition not only serves to leave listeners with ideas they must contemplate, but also exemplifies the historical frustration African-Americans have had trying to achieve equality in interracial relationships in America. While the thematic message of both poems is dark and disappointing, a thread of hope may be found in the contrast between both poems, written in different stages of that struggle, in that the narrator seems to have advanced from a stymied individual who can only cite her race’s ability to overcome as way to combat injustice, versus the stronger and more assertive voice who is able to command her oppressors to treat her with respect. Only the future of interracial relations and poetry’s evolving story will tell whether that voice has been heard. In conclusion, both poems exemplify different techniques of resistance against a Dominant White Culture. While African Americans have been one of the most marginalized groups in American culture, the time period between the two has evolved to where marked improvement can be found. A group that has been so manically oppressed in America has gone on to produce some of the best masterpieces of the 20th century and that is a victory by itself.