Maya Angelou’s Poem Still I Rise Themes

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“Ain’t I a woman? ” which was written by Sojourner Truth in 1854 and Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I rise” which was written in the 20th century both deal with the themes of racism and inequality between white and black people and especially white and black women. The first poem is Sojourner Truth’s, which asks why she wasn’t treated like a woman throughout the speech “Ain’t I a woman? “.

The two main themes she looks at are the themes of racism and inequality she gives examples throughout the poem that show that women have no rights and the poem questions the morality of why she does not have these rights. Sojourner Truth was born into slavery and therefore had no real education and throughout the poem she highlights this using non-standard English – “Ain’t I a woman? ” She has a deep Christian faith from her childhood and she expresses this at the end when talking about how Christ was from a woman and man had nothing to do with him.

Analysis of the Poem Is Still I Rise

In this poem she addresses a wide audience because this poem was originally as a speech for a woman’s conference there would have been numerous people at this conference including men, women, blacks and whites. In the first stanza she talks about how all women should be treated equally comparing the treatment of white women to herself as a black woman.

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She also talks about segregation when she says “that man over there say” referring to him as “that man” and as being “over there” creates a distance.

In the second stanza she talks about how she works as hard as a man in the first few lines of this stanza she engages the reader by using the imperatives “look at me” followed by “look at my arm” these commands capture the reader. In the third stanza she talks about the fact that she as all the bad points of both men and women about how she can work as much as a man and that she is not given the right food to match and highlights this point when she says “I can bear the lash as well”.

In the fourth stanza she gathers both sympathy and empathy from the reader when recalling some of her harshest experiences of inequality as a slave she recalls how her children were taken by the slave owners and she recalls how there was nobody there “none but Jesus heard me” this will engage everyone but especially mothers she also refers to her faith in this line when she mentions that the only person there was Jesus. In the penultimate stanza she refers again to segregation when saying as she did in the first stanza “that little man in black there say” the use of the word “there” creates distance between Truth and this person.

She again refers to her faith when commenting that “man had nothing to do with him” when talking about Jesus in a time when religion was a very powerful tool as many people were deeply religious. In the last stanza she says that women should be able to have positions of power saying that as a woman had the power to turn the world upside down they should be able to turn it right side up again. Still I rise was written to express Maya Angelou’s plight during the 20th century and how she will never be down hearted about it repeating the line “still I rise” throughout the poem.

Maya Angelou had a disruptive childhood when she was three her parents divorced and she was sent to live with her Grandmother in a different state. After being sexually assaulted whilst staying at her mothers she didn’t speak to anyone but her brother for four years. She has no target audience as the poem was written as just that a poem and therefore has a large span of people reading the poem however it is aimed at an adult audience rather than children talking of things like “haughtiness”, “sexiness” and “sassiness”.

In the first stanza she talks about how people make up lies and put her down “your bitter twisted lies” she uses personal pronouns to make the reader guilty for her plight and therefore more sympathetic. The second stanza talks about her confidence and power “oil well pumping in my living room” this use of imagery is very powerful as oil was and still remains a very expensive material. The third stanza is used to make her point that she cannot be stopped using the line “just like the moons and the suns” and she goes on to say “with the certainty of the tides” she uses nature as it is the only thing that cannot truly be stopped.

She backs this up like she has done with many of the other stanzas by using the phrase “still I rise” this line is assertive saying no matter what I will rise. The fourth stanza relies on the theme of pain and suffering talking about how she feels people want her to be treated again using personal pronouns to make the reader feel guilty she uses past tense to make the reader feel guilty for what they may have done. The fifth stanza reverts back to present tense and is similar to the second stanza claiming confidence again using the theme of power and wealth “gold mines diggin in my own backyard”.

The sixth stanza almost repeats the theme of pain but is more violent using violent verbs such as “cut”, “shoot” and “kill” and at the end of that stanza again uses the analogy of nature when saying “still like air I rise” this makes it sound effortless and done with ease. The seventh stanza shows sarcasm in the first to lines of the stanza “does it come as a surprise” and then as we have seen before the theme of wealth and power “diamonds at the meeting of my thighs. ” The last few stanza change structure in an explosion of rage. Again using nature as an example of power, “Black Ocean.

” It ends with the repetition of the line “I rise” to enforce her point. “Ain’t I a woman” asks people, ‘lets work together’ using collective people such as women whereas Maya Angelou’s poem is more of an out cry of anger finalising with the words “I rise. ” Sojourner Truth is ill educated and therefore she uses non Standard English however Maya Angelou uses non Standard English to highlight her roots throughout Maya’s poem a theme of aggression moves to the forefront of the poem whereas in Truth’s poem she grows in confidence questioning the reader throughout.

Both poets address a wide audience one in a woman’s conference and the other (still I rise) not having a real target audience. Still I rise follows a set pattern of quatrains until the end when the structure explodes into a vent of aggression and defiance it also changes from past tense when talking of oppression to present tense when talking about hope.

The previous poem on the other hand was written as a speech but still has a rhythm she splits up the poem every 5 or 6 lines with the words “Ain’t I a woman” Still I rise is very fast paced because it has shorter sentences compared to “Aint I a woman” which because it contains longer sentences is much slower. In “Still I rise” Angelou uses personal pronouns to grab the reader’s attention and make the reader think about the injustices done.

While in “Ain’t I a woman” Truth never uses personal pronouns but instead opens up to the reader supplying her inner most thoughts. Both poem repeat their titles right through the poems but for different effects in Still I rise it is used to make a point while in Ain’t I a woman it is used to back up a point and to question the reader. Both poems use rhetorical questions “still I rise” uses more, more frequently to highlight or to make points whereas in Ain’t I a woman they are used purely to highlight or to remind the reader of the theme f the poem.

Ain’t I a woman uses verbs right from the start describing how white women should be treated using the verbs “helped”, “lifted” and how they “need” and the use of verbs continues throughout the poem when describing Truths tasks “Plowed” and “gathered” etc all of which are tasks commonly set to men as opposed to the violent verbs used in Still I rise such as “cut”, “shoot” and “kill. ” Both poems have very strong endings; Angelou repeats the line “I rise” three times after rallying people with the word “I am the dream, the hope of the slave” whilst Truth tells her readers to work together.

Still I rise was more a vent of anger whereas Ain’t I a woman was open and it seemed like she was revealing her inner most secrets. It was for that very reason that I preferred Ain’t I a woman as I found it therefore easier to sympathise with her than In Still I rise as it felt as if sympathy was almost forced on you despite the fact that Truth used less personal pronouns the imperatives she used grabbed my attention and she kept my attention by discussing personal issues that were very intimate.

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Maya Angelou’s Poem Still I Rise Themes. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

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