What must one do when the very existence of their whole life is under scrutiny and perpetually abused? How do they overcome a situation from which they are powerless to the ruffians of their life? Responding to the unbounded brutality she faces, Maya Angelou paints a clear cut picture in “Still I Rise,” one that illustrates persistence in the face of adversity, triumph in the face of loss, and tenacity in the face of injustice. Incorporating a variety of tones into the poem adds passion and urgency to the hardships the African American race is forced to endure, ultimately ending with a tone proclaiming victory, Maya Angelou conveys a message to her own people–a message of hope and remaining firm in fighting for their rights.
She also inspires people on a global level as she rewards human strength and resilience, and the ability to adapt to a given situation and overcome tribulations. By the end, Angelou urges her readers to defy conformity–rather than wallow in a puddle of self-grievance–preserving their human individuality.
Oppression is brought into light as Angelou defies her captors, rising above them in the midst of constantly being shot down. She brings to light an oppression, often overlooked, one in which a simple look or gesture signals to African Americans that they are beneath everyone else. The whole of stanza six gravitates around the preposterous ways she is treated as Angelou notes that her oppressors “may cut me down with your eyes,” (line 22) but once again her strength and resilience found through her confidence in her identity, preventing her from succumbing to her oppressors.
Angelou once again states that “but still, like air, I rise.” She contradicts the preceding lines, establishing her voice, one filled with breath of life. Yet again undertaking her battle unto the oppressive scum who pursue to “see (her) broken,” Angelou hypothesizes the conditions they seek to bombard unto her, the very ones she refuses to give into.
Addressing the centuries of endured hardships–filled with being degraded to animals, stripped of their humanity–Angelou depicts how she rises past these unforgivable crimes. She brings to attention the manipulation of the records of history, tainted by the “bitter, twisted lies” that the white people have expelled upon. She refuses, however, to be curbed by these atrocious accounts as she claims to rise “Out of the huts of history’s shame…Up from a past that’s rooted in pain” paying no heed to the barbarity her race was treated with, evolving her role in society past where they strive to inhibit her.
“Trod(ding) (her) in the very dirt” illustrates their attempts to step her down beneath them like the countless black people before her, making her odd comparison to dust just the more interesting initiating the ironical tone of perseverance which perpetuates throughout the whole poem. Her spirited rejection of oppression on line four–“But still, like dust, I’ll rise” again displays a picture of all that Angelou and the black population have overcome, building themselves up, as people viciously try to tear them down.
Through Angelou’s incorporation of imagery and figurative language, she reiterates a town of self-motivation to rise and combat her attacker growing the essence of optimism, conveying an attitude of hope for the future. She metaphorically compares herself to the suns and moons rising (line 9) to illustrate the message of transcending past society’s bounds despite the forces around her, ensuing just to chain her down. Angelou’s comparison to the suns and moons operate as a reference point that rise each and everyday no matter what the circumstance is, just as she has had to adapt to do. Her employment of the phrase “with the certainty of tides,” continues to reflect the cosmic scale into which she weaves her self-projection.
Angelou expresses an aura of confidence, dictated on her own terms, which can not be trampled on or crushed by those who seek only to poison her name. Within the figurative language she uses, comparing herself to “…hopes springing high,” Angelou continues the optimistic tone, manifesting her never-faltering endurance and aspiration. She then again simply ends the stanza with, “still I’ll rise”. Once again engraining the metaphorical and literal sense of rising up against the world and those who tear us down into the reader’s brain. Once again in stanza eight, Angelou incorporates her voice and spirit, putting forth an attitude of hope, one that promises her will to overcome. Angelou once again compares herself–this time to a black ocean, leaping and wide (line 33). While there is no clear cut explanation as to why Angelou chose this peculiar analogy, it once again facilitates a tone of confidence.
The choice of the word “wide” could very well serve as a representation for Angelou being stretched and exposed to new realities of the world. Angelou also chooses the word “leaping” which further illustrates the obstacles she continues to face and her effort to overcome them. Angelou further illustrates her focus of endurance and optimism, as she describes herself as “welling and swelling” (line 34), bearing in the tide to strengthen her view of persistence, words that suggest that she is growing and rising, unable to be held down. Word choice is pertinent to forcing the readers to be stirred, prodding them to feel emotion.
Ultimately, Angelou leaves her readers with a sense of power, optimism, and hope for the future. She leaves herself fully vulnerable flooding her readers with her plea for change. The whole poem is symbolic of Angelou’s individual transformation, but it is during this point that she flees from, “nights of terror and fear” (line 35). It is during this point that Angelou breaks free of the chains that once enslaved her, and undergoes a metamorphosis viewing herself as an individual of worth.
Angelou carries on the legacy of her ancestors, using her voice to advocate for them, as she proclaims that she is “the dream and hope of the slave” (line 40). Providing closure to the battle for freedom, Angelou once again refuses to be shackled to the confines that society attempts to place her in. Closing the poem with “I rise” (lines 41-43) brings the poem full circle, finally bringing the black people to the dignity in which they have yearned for for hundreds of years.
Angelou’s sassy, defiant, assertive writing plays a monumental element in imparting her message thoroughly as she does. Strategically starting the poem off with a captivating “you,” boldly addressing her oppressors and holding them accountable, Angelou conveys a sense of desperation mixed with a tone of rebellion that will encompass the rest of the poem. She also pulls a sassy tone, almost snubbing her oppressors, epitomizing a perfect manner to insurrect past them.
Asking if her “sassiness upset(s) you,” if her “sexiness upset(s) you,” or if her “haughtiness offend(s) you” she delivers a manner of sarcasm, disregarding the despot’s sentiment, following it up with “Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells/Pumping in my living room” and other audacious responses which demonstrates her attitude towards the problems she faces as she almost just scampers around her tyrants, indifferent to their attempts to assault her. Indifferent, yet vigorous. Ironic, yet serious. Angelou seems to be able to control the injustice in her life merely by giving it no leverage.
“Still I Rise” is able to bring into the reader’s radar an unprecedented perspective on the fight against injustice, introducing an attitude which would not only ward off the massacre within ourselves caused by brutality, but also transcend us above being afflicted by any abuse we face, letting us rise above the binding of our enslaving tormentors.