Sunday, September 15, 2019

How Do Maya Angelou and Grace Nichols Communicate What It Means to Be a Black Woman in Today’s Society Essay

How do Maya Angelou and Grace Nichols communicate what it means to be a black woman in today’s society? In this essay I will compare two poems. The two poems I will compare is Maya Angelou’s ‘Still I rise’ to Grace Nichols’ ‘Of course when they ask for poems about the ‘realities’ of Black women’. I think Maya Angelou’s ‘Still in rise’ has a rather different message to Grace Nichols’ poem. I think they are interesting to compare because Maya Angelo is lively and spirited about writing a poem about how strong black women are and how it is to be a black woman in today’s society. Whereas, Grace Nichols is more disgruntled and irritated about writing her poem. The first poem I will scrutinize is Maya Angelo’s ‘Still I rise’. The title ‘Still I rise’ shows strength and optimism as it is a short but strong meaning title. It means that Maya Angelou will always defend herself. It makes you feel no matter what you do to Maya Angelou she will just get back up again. This makes you believe that Maya Angelou is a strong person. In the first verse, Maya Angelou starts off using an accusatory tone when she says ‘you may write me down in history with you bitter, twisted lies’. This gives the impression that she is talking to white people when she says this. I think this means she doesn’t like what white people have wrote in their history books about black people’s past as it is over exaggerated and a lot of lies. Near the end of the first verse, she uses the simile ‘but still like dust, I’ll rise’. This is once again reinforcing the idea that she is a strong black woman. By using this simile she is also comparing herself and her race to dust and this suggests that you can’t get rid of black people and that they are everywhere you go, as dust is hard to get rid of and it is everywhere as you can’t control or capture it. In the second verse, Maya Angelou is more lively and spirited when she says ‘Does my sassiness upset you? ’ This suggests that she is getting more confident as she progresses through the poem. She also uses two rhetorical questions to grip the reader’s attention ‘why are you beset with gloom? Also, in the second verse she shows more confidence when she uses the phrase ‘‘cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells pumping in my living room. ’ The use of informal language ‘cause’ shows this. This phrase also makes me think that she feels powerful, rich and important. In the third stanza, she uses a lot of similes such as ‘Just like moons and like suns’ I think she has put this simile in because it is natural imagery and she wants black people to be described as this because it is not only a part of nature but the sun and moon are beautiful; vital to the world. In the next line she continues with the natural imagery by saying ‘With certainty of tides’. This is also natural imagery as she is comparing the black race with tides. I think she chose to use the natural imagery of tides here because not only is it once again vital to the world but it also creates a sense of power as tides and waves are incontrollable, powerful and constant and waves always come back so I think maybe she was also trying to reinforce the idea that she and her race are strong. However in the fourth verse, she stops using natural imagery and changes into an interrogative mode when she says ‘did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? ’ Here she uses negative lexis such as ‘broken’ to create an image of a typical slave to the reader. I think she does this here as she wants to show people that herself and her race are not slaves and that you should not dwell on their past and think of them as slaves. In the fifth stanza, it’s more about her culture when she uses the simile ‘cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines’ I think she is implying here that she is not rich in wealth but she is rich in culture and in spirit. I think this changes the atmosphere to a more relaxed mood as she is embracing her culture. Also, when she says ‘diggin in my own back yard’ it gives you a sense of black soulful language and reinforces the fact that she embraces her culture and language. However, in stanza six, it is a more harsh verse as she uses an accusatory tone once again. She creates an atmosphere of fury and annoyance by using onomatopoeia and harsh sounds such as ‘cut’ and ‘kill’. I think this was put in so people would remember the way white people treated slaves and how violent they were towards them. I think she is trying to give an insight of how it must have felt to be a slave and make people feel guilty for treating them so unfairly. At the end of this verse, she repeats herself ‘But still, like air, I’ll rise’. I think she does this to not only make people believe she is a strong, black woman, but to also make the poem memorable for the reader and make it stand out. Also, when she uses the simile ‘like air’ it makes you think that you can’t hurt her because she is ‘like air’ and you can’t cut or hurt air. I think air was a good simile to use here because air rises and I think Angelou was implying that she will rise above all expectations people have for her, black women and black men. Also, by using the word air Maya Angelou is trying to indicate that herself and the black race are now free as black people are now free from slavery. In the seventh stanza, the atmosphere changes and you can see Angelou’s pride in her culture and race. I think Maya Angelou is trying to create a different image for black women as she says ‘does my sexiness up set you? . This suggests that she is trying to make a new image for black women that is sexy and more elegant because before they were seen as only slaves. In the third and fourth line of this verse, she says ‘that I dance like I’ve got diamonds, at the meeting of my thighs’. By using the word diamond she is implying that black women are rare, precious and tough as those are the main characteristics of a diamond. I t hink she is suggesting black women should be treasured and kept safe as they are too precious to lose. In the last stanza, Angelou breaks free from the previous set structure of the quatrains and it’s a more symbolic structure; it does not have a pattern to it. I think this is because it is supposed to imitate the slaves breaking free. Also, it has a random lay out and I think this is reinforcing the idea that you can’t capture black people like slaves anymore and that black people shouldn’t be treated unfairly anymore. The last verse also has more energy to it as it speeds up more. I think this is because when black people broke free from slavery they were lively and more spirited and had more pride in their culture and race. Also, in the last verse, Angelou uses metaphors instead of similes now such as ‘I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide’. I think she changes from similes to metaphors in this verse because she has gained more confidence and pride. It has also become a more happier, lively verse again as she uses more positive lexis such as ‘daybreak’ and ‘wondrously clear’. This is because she is happy and proud of being black and wants black women and men to be perceived as happy and lively. She has not only broken free from the quatrains in this last verse, but she has also broken free from the AB rhyming sentences and is now using rhyming couplets as well as repetition of the words ‘I rise, I rise, I rise’ to show confidence, power and pride of what it means to be a black woman. Overall, throughout the whole of the poem, I believe that Maya Angelou was trying to change the perception of black women and make black women feel as confident and as proud as Angelou does of being black. Throughout the poem Angelou’s tone differs. As in the beginning, although she started with an accusatory tone, she went on and used positive lexis such as ‘hopes springing high’ this then changed from a interrogative mood to a more lively and spirited atmosphere. However, as the poem continues she starts to use negative lexis again and the interrogative mode re-appears making the poem seem more harsh to the reader, although, when you read on the poem ends in a more lively and happier tone as she uses more absolute phrases and starts to use metaphors rather than similes now; ‘I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide’. Angelou’s use of sound imagery is interesting as she makes the reader imagine not only pretty, natural images, but harsh, cruel images as well. For instance, ‘Just like moons and like suns’ and ‘Shoulders falling down like teardrops’. I think she does this so we all can see what she wants black people to be perceived as and also what black people used to be perceived as. Overall, I think Maya Angelou wrote this poem to change the perception of black women in today’s society. The second poem I will analyse is Grace Nichols ‘Of course when they ask for poems about the ‘realities’ of black women’. This is a poem with a slightly different message. Whereas, Maya Angelou’s poem was overall lively and spirited, Grace Nichols poem takes on a more sarcastic side of what it’s like to be a black woman, compared to a white woman, in today’s society and how she feels about being asked to write a poem on what it’s like to be a black woman. The heading of Grace Nichols poem’ Of course when they ask for poems about the ‘realities’ of black women’ shows a sarcastic side as she has put realities in inverted commas. This gives you the impression that she doesn’t want to write this poem as black women are no different from white women or any other race. The first verse of the poem starts with ‘what they really want at times is a specimen whose heart is in the dust’. When she uses the word they in the beginning I think she is talking about white people, racists and those that misunderstand her race. Also, when she says the word specimen it makes you think of a different species; something that needs to be studied. I think this is what she feels racists think of the black race. When she refers to ‘whose heart is in the dust’ this makes the reader believe she thinks people pity her race. When she says ‘a mother-of-sufferer’ she is referring to ancestors of slaves and this then links to ‘trampled/oppressed’ which is the typical slave image. She’s is saying here that ‘they’, meaning white people or people that misunderstand her race, want a slave to write a poem about how it is to be a black person living in today’s society. Grace Nichols then moves on and says ‘they want a little black blood undressed and validation for the abused stereotype already in their heads’. This means that racists want a black, vulnerable person to be proof for the typical slave image, that’s a black stereotype, in their minds. When she says ‘black blood’ she is implying that black people are completely different to any other race and even have different blood, even though black people are no different from white people. She is also implying, when she says ‘For the abused stereotype already in their head’, that the stereotype has been put into people’s heads by white, biased history books. When she says, in the next verse, ‘a perfect song’ she is referring to someone that is proud of their race and would like to write a poem about being black, for example Maya Angelou. Within the next few lines, Grace Nichols talks more about how not all black women are the same and how they can’t be categorised. When she says’ I say I can write no poem big enough to hold the essence’. This means she can’t write one poem for black people or any other race as there are too many personalities and individuals to put them all into one category. When she says ‘of a black woman or a white woman or a green woman’ she is then showing her sarcasm again when she says ‘green woman’ as you can’t have green women and what she is trying to say is that we are all equal . ‘And there are Black women and Black women’ this is once again reinforcing the idea that there is not just ‘the’ black woman. There are different types of black women and they are not all the same and are individuals. In the next line she uses a very good simile when she says ‘like a contrasting sky of rainbow spectrum’. I love this simile as she is saying that there isn’t only one colour black and that when you put all the different colours together it makes something beautiful, such as a rainbow. She is also using natural imagery here and it makes you think of how special black people are to this world. As you go on in the poem, she uses the well known phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ very well as she says ‘touch a black woman you mistake for a rock and feel her melting down to fudge’. I think this is implying the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ as it is saying if you insult a black woman when you think she has ‘thick skin’ she could really be vulnerable inside. In her poem, she does not only talk about different types of people and race, but she also introduces the fact of the different types of language. ‘If need be we’ll trade a piece-a-pussy’. Here she uses her own language of Creole and mixes Caribbean English with English to create a sense of her own Caribbean culture and how proud she is to be black and have her own, unique culture. Also, during her poem, Grace Nichols refers to some famous black women as she says ‘and there are black women so dangerous in South Africa they prison them away’. Here she is talking about Winnie Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s wife. She also refers to Maya Angelou throughout her poem as she says’ and there are black women strong and eloquent and focused’. Here she talks about Maya Angelou and how proud she is of her race. However, at the end of the poem, she ends on a positive note as she says’ the twisted self-negating history we’ve inherited’. I think this means even though they see their history as twisted and cruel, she wants black people to focus on the present and make their history better than that of the ancestors that were slaves. She also says ‘crushing out with each dancing step’. This shows me that she wants to crush out their past history and therefore ends on a positive note. Overall, throughout the poem, I think Grace Nichols was trying to make black women proud of their culture and race and that they are no more different than white people or any other race. I think Grace Nichols didn’t have a set structure for the poem as it is sporadic and a random layout. I think she did this because there is not a set pattern for black women and that the layout represents this. Also, the layout is random and unique and that’s what she wants black women to be perceived as instead as being in a set pattern and categorised. Grace Nichols repeats several thing throughout her poem. ‘of a black woman or a white woman or a green woman’ is repeated a lot to emphasize the point that all races are equal and it doesn’t depend on colour for how we are treated. She also repeats the phrase ‘crushing out with each dancing step’ to make her point that you shouldn’t judge people by their past and that you should forget about you and your ancestors history and create new history. I think Grace Nichols used Creole to emphasize how she is proud of her culture and that black women should be proud as well and celebrate their own culture. I think these poems differ in messages and tones as Maya Angelou’s poem ‘still I rise’ her message is that black women should be proud about their culture and to be black and that Maya Angelou wants to change the perception of black women so that it is not the typical lave image but it is more sexy and elegant. Also, I think Maya Angelou was lively and spirited throughout most of her poem, although she had some accusatory tone and interrogative mode. However, Grace Nichols’s message was different from Maya Angelou’s as Grace Nichols wanted black women to be treated fairly and equally as any other race are and that she doesn’t think its right to define black women all in one category. Also, she didn’t think it was right to be asked to write a poem about how black women feel living in today’s society as it is no different from any other race woman. Grace Nichols’s tone throughout was mainly accusatory and angry. In some ways the two poems are similar as they both feel that their race should not be treated as slave just because some of their ancestors were in captivity as slaves in past history. Also, they both feel that their race should now think about the present and not focus on the past and believe you should forget about slavery and the past. They both also want black people to celebrate their culture. I think Grace Nichols’s poem portrays the black race better as Maya Angelou categorises the black race even though they are all individuals and can’t be put into just one category. Whereas, Grace Nichols says all the way through her poem that black people are individuals and all unique and you can’t categorise them. Also, I think Grace Nichols write not just about the good things about being a black woman, but she also write about the bad things, whereas, Maya Angelou doesn’t.

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