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Tia Castor

Ms. Jacobs

English 132

November 20, 2017

Poetry Analysis: Still I Rise

In Still I Rise by Maya Angelou, it speaks about a strong African American woman

who addresses those who clearly overlook and undervalue her and all black women. She is

speaking up for African American women, her ancestors, and as well as for herself. Feminist

criticism is essential to understanding the message of the poem and why the speaker formulates

her replies as she does.

Feminist literary studies began by denouncing the misrepresentation of women in

literature. It also asks theoretical and historical questions about the representation of differences

such as gender, race, class, and nationality, and the way these differences shape each other.

Using this Angelou conveys the speakers assertiveness when she responds to critics who might

have historically judged her or other black women. She asks does her, Sassiness upset you? (5).

Meaning does what the unnamed listener see offend him/her because she is nowhere near what

people thought her to be. She next asks, Why are you beset with gloom? / Cause I walk like

Ive got oil wells/ Pumping in my living room (6-8). The speaker talks in such a way that

overshadows all the things people say about African American women. She isnt being arrogant

but forward in order to _____ the disrespect. Too many people might think that she as an African

woman, in particular, would be willing to be looked down upon but she is not. Feminist

criticism stresses that women are not passive. It supports the idea that being female is not a

weakness or a reason for shame.


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Feminist criticism also helps readers understand that women have desire and are sexual

beings. The speaker in the poem insinuates at this and her pride in her sexuality when she says,

Does my sexiness upset you? / Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like Ive got diamonds /

At the meeting of my thighs? This set of questions shows that the speaker is OK with her

sexiness. She isnt afraid to show it and even sees it as something to treasure and value. This

doesnt mean that the speaker only views herself as a sex object but it points out that she has a

deep pride and acceptance of that part of herself. The poems refrain helps to make this point.

She rises above the low expectations and the stereotypes.

A real life issue that relates to Still I Rise would be the life and stories of Josephine

Baker. She was born a poor girl African American female in the heats of East St. Louis ghetto in

1906. The songs she produced and the way she danced made her sauvage, her provocative and

exuberant sexuality turned her into an international icon. Because she was an African

Aphrodite it made it difficult to make a living in American, so she had to leave to be able to be

accepted for how she was. Baker probably faced a lot of the criticism and strange looks that the

speaker in the poem responds to. People may have wanted her to keep her bowed head and

lowered eyes but she refused to live any other way except how she wanted. She owned her

sexuality at a time when many thought that that was easy for a black woman, though it probably

wasnt. Critic Robert Goldberg said that, Bakers life was one long struggle with this kind of

racist nonsense. Josephine Baker defied stereotypes and was assertive while also being

unapologetic about her sex appeal. Goldberg said of women like her: Heres the rule: If women

take off their clothes and shake it for a few dollars in a topless bar theyre being exploited. But if

they take off their clothes and shake and get filthy, stinking rich, then they are taking control of

their destiny and glorying in their sensuality. If that is the case, Baker can definitely have been
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the inspiration and an example of who Angelou was writing about when she declared, and still,

I rise.

Angelou Still I Rise is an empowering piece of poetry. A feminist approach helps

readers get a better understanding through the message of the poem and see why the speaker

replies as she does. Both Angelou and Baker faced criticism and stereotype as black women, but

they chose to embrace their humanity. Neither was afraid to convey their assertiveness, sexiness,

and their confidence as African American women. Their legacy put an imprint on the society and

served as an inspiration for those today.


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Works Cited

Goldberg, Robert. TV Black Venus of the Roaring 20s. Wall Street Journal. 18 Mar 1991:

p. A12