Finishing School, by Maya Angelou

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The theme of this essay is standing up for what you believe in and not allowing anyone to take advantage of you. Maya Angelou conveys this theme by using an angry, almost sarcastic tone in the second portion of the essay. She despised the fact that Mrs. Cullinan had changed her name from "Margaret" (a mispronunciation of Marguerita, Angelou's birth name) to Mary for the sake of convenience, so she took a stand by breaking Mrs. Cullinan's favorite dishes on purpose and quitting her job as a domestic.

At the beginning of the essay, when Maya first began working as a domestic-in-training for Mrs. Cullinan (her "finishing school" (2)) she felt nothing but pity for her mistress. Mrs. Cullinan was fat and could not have any children because she had "no organs" (16). Even when she pronounced Angelou's name incorrectly, Maya smiled and felt sorry for her. However, her feelings, and the tone of the essay changed when one of Mrs. Cullinan's friends suggested that she call the girls Mary, as this was shorter and easier to say than Margaret. Mrs. Cullinan took the woman's advice, and proclaimed that Angelou was "Mary from now on" (25).

Maya resented Mrs. Cullinan for changing her name ("imagine letting some white woman rename you for her convenience" (30)), and she rebelled against her. Following her brother's advice, she dropped and broke Cullinan's favorite dishes – a fish-shaped casserole dish and green glass coffee cups – on purpose. After calling her a few discriminatory names, Mrs. Cullinan finally called Angelou by her correct, but still mispronounced, name: Margaret. Maya left the house, leaving the door "wide open so all the neighbors could hear."

Maya did not appreciate being treated like she was an object that could be given a new name whenever its owner pleased, but she also pitied her mistress, and she conveyed her feelings by using an angry, but sarcastic, tone of writing.
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