Final Thoughts on µStill I Rise¶

Over the course of this presentation I will attempt to clarify a few of the techniques Angelou makes use of and how they might connect to what we see as Angelou¶s µproject¶ as a poet. By µproject¶ I mean her overall goals as a poet, her purposes - Angelou had a relatively specific motivation to write and this poem does link into the motivation.

Simile and value
Angelou¶s use of simile throughout the poem is concerned with establishing the value of things that were typically regarded as without value: African American cultural identity and femininity. This is Angelou challenging all her readers to see a different truth about African American identity and about femininity.

³Just like moons and like suns... / Still I¶ll rise´ Angelou consciously connects her reader to µmoons¶ and µsuns¶. These are celestial bodies that are permanent fixtures in the universe. They are also bodies of great power, one heating the earth, the other determining the tides. By linking to them she is suggesting that her speaker is just as permanent, just as fundamental to the universe and just as powerful. Beyond this, the moon and the sun allow for the earth to exist in the first place and so Angelou is not only alluding the permanence of her speaker, she is also alluding to the value the speaker places in herself. This is a fairly serious challenge to the suggestion that African American¶s were inferior to whites. Here Angelou is offering a different truth, one where African American¶s are fundamental to the existence of civilisation (which is a historically valid point) and have a strength of spirit equal to power of the sun. She wants her to inspire her reader to see themselves in this way, to re-shape the way they see themselves, their culture and their identity so that they might have reason to appreciate and value their cultural identity.

³µCause I walk like I¶ve got oil wells / Pumping in my living room.´ ³Cause I laugh like I¶ve got gold mines / Diggin¶ in my own backyard.´ The verbs are important here. She walks and she laughs, these aren¶t particularly unusual things - the speaker is simply living, but living as though she is outrageously rich. We associate the kind of wealth Angelou alludes to here with confidence and status. By linking her speaker to these images of wealth, she is suggesting the speaker has the same confidence and status. However, we know the speaker doesn¶t literally have this material wealth and so we question where that wealth resides. We can make a valid argument that the speaker finds that wealth in her culture. She is making reference to natural sources of wealth and what it more natural to her speaker than her heritage, her culture? By accepting it and embracing it, she has a richness that will always be hers and will always be close at hand, like her backyard or her living room. I think this challenges her reader to see her culture in the same way she does. It dares the reader to embrace their culture in the same way and share in her wealth. This is what allows this set of lines to connect to the idea of cultural appreciation. Angelou challenges the typical view of her culture and suggests that by valuing your culture, or cultural identity, you gain a limitless source of wealth.

³Does it come as a surprise / That I dance like I¶ve got diamonds / At the meeting of my thighs?´ This feels to me like it is Angelou embracing her femininity and making a clear challenge to the reader to suggest why she shouldn¶t be proud to be a woman. The imagery follows the same pattern. Angelou makes reference dancing, an act that suggests confidence and pride in her body and the way it moves. The connection to diamonds then suggests that the speaker is dancing as though she has great wealth and the status and confidence that comes with it. The location of that wealth though is unveiled as coming from ³the meeting of her thighs´. This is a clear reference to her gender and her sexuality. It¶s a daring image but effectively connects the very thing that makes her a woman to an image of significant value. If this isn¶t a representation of pride in her femininity then I don¶t know what is. It feels to me as though the speaker as acting as role model and provocateur here. This question could be aimed at men or at women, white or black. It demands to know why women shouldn¶t feel as though their gender and sexuality is something to treasure. If the reader can¶t argue with the speaker, then they are on board with her and take away from this image either a renewed respect for female sexuality or a reminder that empowerment can come from simply valuing your gender and sexuality.

³I am the dream and the hope of the slave´

³I am the dream and the hope of the slave´

The speaker comes to represent something much larger than herself here. Both µdream¶ and µhope¶ are intangible, untouchable qualities - they are, in effect, not real. A contrast is set up here because the speaker is real, she is a free physical body in the world. The contrast and connection between the two represents the movement from oppression to liberation. We get this reading because of the use of the word µslave¶. The speaker represents the present, a time of potential, whereas the slave represents the past, where freedom could only be dreamed or hoped of. The metaphor effectively expresses the success of the African American people to overcome powerful oppression. The speaker¶s very presence is a victory, she is not a dream or a hope, she is real and this contrast (to the point of paradox) allows the metaphor to express that African American culture is µrising¶, it is changing to a state of greater equality. This potentially challenges the notion that nothing changes, that African American¶s are still oppressed and that equality will never come. Angelou wants to show her reader that because of the strength and determination of her people, things have changed and will continue to change. So, this effectively establishes a view of African Americans as strong, proud, determined (contrary to the stereotype) while also suggesting that progress is ongoing and equality is inevitable.

Rhetorical Question
³Does my sassiness upset you?´ ³Does my haughtiness offend you?´ ³Does my sexiness upset you?´

³Does my sassiness upset you?´ ³Does my haughtiness offend you?´ ³Does my sexiness upset you?´
µHaughty¶ - arrogantly superior It is the combination of rhetorical question, personal pronoun and direct address that make these lines to powerful. The direct address demands that the reader consider their position on what is being asked. The inclusion of µmy¶ separates the speaker from the reader. This effectively creates a distance or tension between the speaker and the reader. The reader has to choose sides and so the technique is extremely engaging. This really forces the reader to consider their prejudices. This is also Angelou re-claiming her right to speak and her right to be the woman she wants to be. She is asserting herself in these questions, each noun has an attitude to it. µSassiness¶ suggests cheekiness and confidence, µhaughtiness¶ hints at feeling superior to the point of arrogance, µsexiness¶ again has connotations of confidence and sensual pride. These are attributes an African American woman in the 50¶s would have been afraid to assert and so Angelou is challenging that belief and questioning why it¶s not alright for these attitudes to be asserted. Again, this is about Angelou is challenging all readers to re-consider their attitudes. By demanding they take sides on the issue, she promotes conversation and debate and also facilitates changes of attitude.