English Poems the Problem Regarding Racial Equality Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

English Poems

The problem regarding racial equality can be traced as far back as the African-American slave trade of the 1400s. But even after the Civil War and the Reconstruction of the United States, there is no denying the fact that a racial tension still exists between "whites" and "blacks." Many authors, artists, and poets have portrayed this tension, sometimes even going as far back as inspiring their audience through language akin to the spirituals found during the time of slavery. Maya Angelou, renowned American poetess and author, is but one of many who voices the plight of racial inequality. In her works "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" and "Still I Rise," she portrays the struggle of African-Americans throughout the centuries of racial oppression and segregation.

To be able to understand the historical contexts derived from the two works of poetry, one should delve into the origin and the continued oppression of African-Americans during and after slavery had been abolished. At the height of slavery -- occurring between 1441 and 1888 -- "cruelty and merciless misery" inflicted upon slaves seemed inevitable and invincible (Hood, 2010). Slaves were treated like cattle, branded as property and worked to the very core of their existence. Yet it is in this hardship that slaves resisted, and many others fought their way towards freedom. Historians have pinpoint the appearances of the "slave spirituals," that is, "songs meant to help [slaves] endure brutality and endless work or to inspire them to run away" (Bentley, 2011). Yet even after the Underground Railroad and even further past the Reconstruction, African-Americans were far from the equal racial treatment they sought. Sexual violence and racism frequently became synonymous, and problems between whites and blacks would continue to emerge even after centuries of slavery's abolishment (McGuire, 2004).

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Still I Rise

Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (Angelou, 1969) rings the atmosphere of suppression and limits and of freedom and limitlessness. The poem itself juxtaposes the large differences between a "free bird" and a "caged bird," highlighting the plight of the caged bird and the unbridled happiness of a free bird's flight. Angelous uses major forms of imagery here, basking the free bird in an array of nature and colors. The free bird follows the wind and the streaming water, "dips his wings in the orange sun rays," and waits "on a dawn-bright lawn," "naming the sky his own." The sky and the natural surroundings give the reader a broad sense of the free bird's environment. On the other hand, the caged bird is stuck in a prison, stalking "down his narrow cage" with clipped wings and tied feet. Why else would the caged bird sing but for its laments over its suppressed boundaries? The use of negative words such as "nightmare" and "narrow" illustrate the caged bird's environment.

"Still I Rise" (Angelou, 1978) gives an empowered form to its tone. It uses a personal narrative, using the "you" and the "I"…

Sources Used in Document:

Resources

Angelou, Maya. (1969). "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Retrieved from <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/i-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings/>

Angelou, Maya. (1978). "Still I Rise." Retrieved from < http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/still-i-rise/>

Bentley, Rosalind. (2011, February 20). Lifting its voice, and community, for 100 years: Glee club masters classic spirituals. Pressure, pride in lyrical embodiment of Morehouse's mission. The Atlanta Journal - Constitution, p. E.1. Retrieved April 1, 2011, from ProQuest National Newspapers Expanded. (Document ID: 2271394841).

Hood, L. (2010). The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade and the U.S. Underground Railroad. International Congregational Journal, 9(1), 47-57. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

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