Maya Angelou and her African American Dream
Maya Angelou is one of the most distinguished African American writers of the twentieth century. Writing is not her only forte she is a poet, director, composer, lyricist, dancer, singer, journalist, teacher, and lecturer (Angelou and Tate, 3). Angelou’s American Dream is articulated throughout her five part autobiographical novels; I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Gather Together in my Name, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas, The Heart of a Woman, and All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes. Maya Angelou’s American Dream changed throughout her life: in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya’s American dream was to fit into a predominantly white society in small town Arkansas, she dreamed of one day waking up from her”black ugly dream” (Bloom, 2); and looking in the mirror and seeing a white girl, with straight blonde hair, wearing a beautiful Easter dress. She struggles to accept herself, and recounts the struggles of African Americans in the South, and their fight for equality in American society. Next, in Gather Together in my Name and Singin’ and Swingin’ and Getting’ Merry Like Christmas; Maya struggles with being a single mother, and fulfilling her American Dream to provide a picturesque household for her son during the post World War II era. She searches for the perfect husband, who will provide the perfect home and life for her child, and she makes many sacrifices along the way. Finally, in The Heart of a Woman, and All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes Angelou’s American dream starts maturing, as she realizes that her dream has been for a place to call home for herself, her child, and her people(African Americans); but she comes to the realization that this search often ends in disappointment. Angelou also discovers that her son is going through the same feelings of displacement that she experienced when she was a young girl. She is heartbroken because her past is coming back to haunt her, and she cannot escape it.
Marguerite Johnson (she did not become Maya Angelou until she became a dancer in a cabaret club) was born on April 4th 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her mother Vivian Baxter Johnson and father, Bailey Johnson divorced in 1931, and Maya and her brother, Bailey were sent to live with their paternal grandmother Annie Johnson Henderson, in Stamps, Arkansas (Bloom, 2). It was here in Stamps that Maya’s search for a place called home began. Maya had felt displaced by her parents when she was sent to live with her grandmother, and a big part of her American Dream was to find a steady home. Carol Neubauer wrote the essay: Southern Woman Writers, where she examines Aneglou’s life, she writes; “Maya Angelou calls displacement the most important loss in her childhood, because she is separated from her mother and father at age three and never fully regains a sense of security and belonging” (Neubauer, 2). Even though Momma Henderson is the steadiest parental figure in her life, she still longs for the acceptance, and love of her biological parents. In Stamps she struggled to find her place as a “black girl in a world whose boundaries were set by whites” (Bloom 2). Maya’s grandmother, Momma Henderson played a large role in teaching young Marguerite how to deal with segregation, and racism, Neubauer states that; “Momma is their most constant source of love and strength” (Neubauer, 2). Her grandmother owned a small general store, and was one of the few black people in Stamps that did not rely on relief money from the government during the Great Depression (Bloom, 2). Momma Henderson helped Angelou have pride in herself, and empowered her to be proud to be a black woman, Bloom states that; “From her Angelou learned common sense, practicality, and the ability to control one’s own destiny that comes from constant hard work and courage” (Bloom, 3). This feeling of empowerment and self sustainability was about to disappear because...
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