Maya Angelou Response

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A race war between whites and blacks has blighted American history since colonial times. In her essay “Graduation,” Maya Angelou recollects the experience of her eighth grade graduation in the 1930s to examine the personal growth of humans caught in the adversity of racial discrimination. Through narrative structure, selection of detail, and use of imagery, Angelou encourages young blacks to follow their ambitions with pride, despite what the “white man” thinks of them.

Through her narrative structure, Angelou aspires for young black students to maintain “Negro” pride and strong ambition. Her essay is built on a foundation of intertwined objective and subjective narration which follows chronological order. It commences with Angelou expounding on the culture of her local community, Stamps, Arkansas, through objective narration. Then, through subjective narration, Angelou interprets her own rank within the community and graduation preparations. This produces a tone of blithe anticipation for the approaching ceremony; although during graduation, the tone shifts. Angelou goes from describing herself as “the person of the moment,” to having agonizing thoughts that it “was awful to be a Negro and have no control over…life;” and, finally, to Angela declaring that she is a “proud member of the wonderful, beautiful Negro race.” The tone alters throughout the essay, changing to bitter disappointment after Mr. Donleavy’s discouraging speech and then back to contentment after the speech of class valedictorian, Henry Read. This narrative structure demonstrates that these people did not let prejudice hold them back long.

Angelou’s selection of detail accentuates the unjust underestimation of black students, and her surpassing the low expectations of the “white man.” She includes a polysyndeton to show that “unlike the white high school, Lafayette County Training School distinguishes itself by having neither lawn, nor hedges, nor tennis court, nor climbing ivy.” Regardless...
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