Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou Her life was never easy. From the time she was born, Maya Angelou was subjected to racism, rape, grief and dehumanization. She beared enough emotional stress in a time frame that most people don’t experience in a lifetime. Yet she prevailed. She forced herself to become stronger. And in doing so, she produced writings, which in turn, helped others to become strong.

Her experiences and the lessons learned gave her confidence to be a teacher, a preacher, and an inspiration to millions. Maya Angelou was courageous. Based on Angelous most prestigious autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, along with others, certainly reveals the occurring hardships and misfortunes of her life. In Maya Angelous first published autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, in 1970, she focuses in on the concept of black skin, and the emotions and fears that come along with it. Caged Bird begins, it opens with a symbolic presentation expressing Angelous fears as a little girl being stared at in church by the whites in society who looked down on the people of colored skin.

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Further, Jon Zlotnik Schmidt of American Writers separates this introduction as one of the several, in which Maya Angelou feels abused because she is a black child, and sees herself as an outcast in all of society(American Writers IV 2). Throughout Caged Bird, Angelou remains displaced as being a racist in society. She is deserted and rejected by her mother, Vivian Baxter(Black Women Writers 5). In several of her related fantasies, Angelou, as a child imagines her mother lying in a coffin, dead with no face: “Since I couldnt fill in the features I printed M O T H E R across the O, and tears would fall down my cheeks like warm milk(American Writers 3).” As she grew up with no mother in her life, Maya Angelou was forced to become a mature adolescent at a young age(American Writers 5). I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, prevails in moments where metaphors correspond perfectly to the emotions of Maya Angelous relationship with Annie Henderson, her grandmother, whom Angelou referred to as Momma Henderson.

It is distinctly exemplified when three white girls perform a handstand pantyless in front of Momma Henderson revealing their power of white sexuality in front of a superior woman. Momma just hymns a song showing her granddaughter how to react to the ridicules of the “powhitetrash.” Steven Butterfeld of American Writers views Mommas reaction as a victory in self control(American Writers 3). Angelou exhibits a similar spirit when describing her visit with Momma to a white dentist who reveals that he would rather put his hands in a dogs mouth than a niggers(Contemporary Literary Criticism 12 12). The appalling parallel between the “dog” and the “nigger” narrates the account of dehumanization noted by African American writers. The most powerful emotional response in the first autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, is Angelous contrary speech after being raped by her mothers lover. On page four of American Writers the author describes the speech in the language used by Angelou describing the tragic episode: Then there was the pain.

A breaking and entering when even the senses are torn apart. The act of rape on a eight-year-old body is the matter of the needle giving because the camel cant. The child gives, because the body can, and the mind of the violator cannot. This phrase suggests that not a single person could fathom the pain that the rape caused her because, not only has she experienced sexual abuse, but she has also received a lifetime of pain prior to this occurrence. Furthermore, Angelou is expressing how she feels about one who performs this abominable assault, clarifying the mental disorders which come along with that person.

Angelou remains insecure about her body for an extreme period of time. She experienced such damage that it drove her to feel negatively about her body, forcing her to see dismorphic images of herself. She believed that her small breasts, large bones and deep voice was indicative of lesbian tendencies. On page ten of Contemporary Literary Criticism, Sidonie Ann Smith states that “Angelous self-critical process is incessant, a driving demon.” She also continues to express that, “In the black girls experience, there are natural bars that are reinforced with the rusted iron of social bars, of racial subordination and importance.” In order to verify this fallacy, that indeed she was not a lesbian, Angelou seduces a beautiful neighborhood boy and becomes pregnant(Modern American Women Writers 5). At the end of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Angelou is a single mother, yet still a child, fearful that she might harm her baby because of her foolishness and irresponsibility of the past.

In Angelous second autobiography, Gather Together in My Name, published in 1974, Maya Angelou is a young mother cynical about her place in society because of the agony that she received as a child growing up. She must face obstacles that follow the Second World War(Magills Survey of American Literature 2256). As Gather Together in My Name opens, Angelou and Clyde, her son, are living in San Francisco, California, with Angelous mother and her new husband. She writes, “I was seventeen, very old, embarrassingly young with a son of two months, and I still lived with my mother and stepfather(Modern American Women Writers 4).” Angelous brother, Bailey, encourages her to go to Los Angeles and try to live with relatives. Unsuccessfully, Angelou resorts to becoming a nightclub waitress, where she meets two lesbians. In a dramatic scene, Angelou and the two women spend the afternoon smoking marijuana, dancing and drinking.

Angelou convinces them to turn their house into a whorehouse(Modern American Women Writers 5). As the partnership becomes successful, Angelou is able to buy herself a used Chrysler convertible. When the two lesbians decide to defy the rules of the house by stealing money from her, the partnership terminated due to a friendship clash(American Writers 5). Bloom notes on page four in Modern American Women Writers that in Gather Together, “Angelous bold headstrong self-assurance and co …

Maya Angelou

.. nfidence lead her to “bluff” her way into dangerous situations.” Bloom continues that, “Angelous comic-lyric narrative prevents her autobiographical works from becoming a confessional.” According to Annie Gottlieb on page eleven of Contemporary Literary Criticism, “Gather Together in My Name, is a little shorter and thinner than its predecessor, telling of an episodic, wondering and searching period in Maya Angelous life, it lacks the density of childhood.” She also goes on to state that it is more condensed in a way that conveys a world of emotion, where it more like poetry. Lynn Sukenick on page twelve of Contemporary Literary Criticism goes on to say that in Gather Together, “Maya Angelous insistence on taking full responsibility for her own life, her frank and humorous examination of her self, will challenge many a reader to be as honest under easier circumstances.” The climax of Gather Together in My Name, occurs when an unexpected compassionate boyfriend, Troubador Martin, takes Angelou, who is now smoking a profuse amount of marijuana, on a tour of the underworld of heroin addiction. Troubador makes her watch as he shoots up. “Rich yellow pus flowed out and down his arm to the wrist,” illustrates Angelous horrid description of the scene. Angelous refusal to do hard drugs marked the end of her irresponcibility and the beginning of the safeguard to her sons survival(Black Women Writers 14).

Singin and Swingin and Gettin Merry Like Christmas, is Angelous next installment of her life. It is considered by many critics to be more of a memoir rather than an autobiography. It covers five years of Angelous life, ranging from age twenty-two to twenty- seven(Modern American Women Writers 4). In this, Angelou expresses her confused feelings about her mother Vivian Baxter, while she is temporarily separated from her son, ending her marriage with Tosh Angelos and coping with the loss of Annie Henderson. Much of Angelous struggle in this third and incredibly complex autobiography, concerns her role as a mother versus a social role as a committed actress, where she feels it is necessary to leave her son for a period of time.

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As she decides to go to Europe to perform in Porgy and Bess, Angelou gains cognizance in that, if she leaves her son with her mother, she will be repeating a pattern that her mother forced upon her when she was a child(American Writers 6) June Jordan of Contemporary Literary Criticism, explains to readers that Singin and Swingin is at times a delightful reading whereas, at others, times is not at all(Page 13). “The unabashed, positive energies and the happy resourcefulness of this woman compel your respect, and certainly you wish her well as she hurtles from week to week, place to place, trial to victory,” adds Jordan. Mindfully hidden in this autobiography is the absence of Momma Henderson, who in previous autobiographies, is a comfort and influence to Angelous actions. The account of her death possibly, is the most powerful emotional demonstration of her autobiographies(Magills Survey of American Literature 2253). To Angelou, the African American spirituals in this story are, “sweeter than sugar. I wanted to keep my mouth full of them..”(American Writers 7).

This figure can be looked at as the negative images of the trifling mother in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Gather Together in My Name and Singin and Swingin are what lead into The Heart of a Woman, where she recounts seven years of her life (1957-1963) and her active participation with the civil rights movement as well as the womens movement(Modern American Women Writers 4). In this story, it is the period of the early civil rights marches, of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is also a period when Maya Angelou, according to author of Twentieth Century American Literature, “Tries her wings and learns that she can fly,” of a brief marriage to a freedom fighter.

It is also a period when her son grows into manhood(Page 204). This story looks back on the times that Maya Angelou faced bringing up her black male child, where so many barriers and obstacles stood in the way of him maturing into adulthood(Twentieth Century American Literature 204). Angelou in addition, shows her readers the hazards of raising a black child by a lonesome woman. Maya Angelou,” Shows how one woman succeeds in skirting these dangers and comes out safely on the other side (Twentieth Century American Literature 204).” Now in her thirties, the main character of The Heart of a Woman is searching for a place where she is comfortable with herself. Now, as she is trying to lead a life on a houseboat in San Francisco, Angelou is entertaining the legendary Billie Holiday just a few months before the singers death(American Writers 8). One of the most memorable pieces of the narrative is Angelous four day friendship with the moody image of Billie Holiday.

Certainly, Maya Angelou has undergone a tremendous amount of lifetime experiences, whether they have been ups or downs she has gone through it all. Numerous experiences in which were negative have given Angelou a prayer by allowing herself to write her negativity in such a way that a reader can feel. Maya Angelou, as a remarkably talented writer and autobiographer, has succeeded in life despite her hardships and misfortunes. Her successes have resulted from these, which she so beautifully indicates in her autobiographies. Bibliography Bowden, Jane A. “Maya Angelou.” Contemporary Authors.

Vol. 65-68. Detroit, MI. Gale Research Co. 1977.

pg. 28 Bryfonsk, Dedria and Gerald, Ed. “Maya Angelou.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 12. Detroit, MI. Gale Research Co.

1980. pgs. 9-14 Evans, Mari. “Maya Angelou.” Black Women Writers 1950-1980. Garden City, NY. Anchor Books. 1983.

pgs. 3-20 “Maya Angelou.” Magills Survey of American Literature. Vol 7. New York, NY. Marshall Cadevish Corp.

1994. pgs. 2251-2259 Litz, Walton and Weigel, Molly. “Maya Angelou.” American Writers IV. New York, NY.

Charles Scribner & Sons. 1996. Showalter, Elaine and Litz, Walton and Bachler, Lea. “Maya Angelou.” Modern American Women Writers. New York, NY. Charles Scribner & Sons.

1991. pgs. 1-7.

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