Exuberance as Beauty: The Prose and Poetry of Maya AngelouOn the Works of Maya AngelouAuthor:Rachel ThomasFrom:Maya Angelou, Bloom's BioCritiques.IntroductionI speak to the Black experience, but I am always talking aboutthe human condition. . .—MayaAngelou(Braxton, 126)Many have discussed the problematic sense of voice andaudience in the works ofMayaAngelou, particularly in herworks of autobiography. Placing her squarely within thetradition of the slave narrative or the coming-of-agebildungsroman is, indeed, problematic. While, as a proud andwell-read African-American woman, the voice of thecharacterMayadoes reflect the sass and doublespeak longassociated with the prose of her people, her periodic and self-imposed detachment from social mores is more in keeping withthe lonely hero of the bildungsroman than with the heroicexemplum of the people common in African-American literature(Gilbert, 85–88). Truly,MayaAngeloustands between these twotraditions, and her voice never fully stems from one or theother. The wavering of her literary voice between two suchopposing traditions reflects the individual distinction that is atthe heart of her works. Her fractured identifications make heran exemplary voice of African-America, of the female character,and even of the Western canonical tradition in which she waseducated. However, the greatest truth in her voice is that of anindividual, and where her varied association with fragments ofsociety, race, and culture make her style adherent to manytraditions, her admirable story of self-discovery makes hervoice unique and her appeal universal.Displacement and IdentityI have been devotingall my time to getParts of you out floatingstill unglued as yet.
The lines ofAngelou's poem "Here's to Adhering," characterizethe process of piecing together the self-identity that spans thevolumes ofMayaAngelou's autobiography and poetry. When,inCaged Bird,Angeloudescribes the multiple burdens of theblack female, she outlines the levels of self-acceptance throughwhich she must pass in her own process of adhering. "The Blackfemale. . .is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculineprejudice, white illogical hate, and Black lack of power" (265).In this state-ment, she charts the course through autobiographyby which she will seek and eventually develop an intactpersonal identity—as a woman, a black, an American, and anAfrican, and as a member of the society of men.Four crises of self shapeAngelou's journey through the volumesof her life story: She places herself in opposition to the blackcommunity (of Stamps), the white community (of the largerworld), the male gender (the men of her personalrelationships), and the nation of America (the country sheabandons in order to see from the outside what elements ofeach cultural association she will take as her own) in order toexamine the societal and cultural identifiers with which shecomes in contact, and to make her judgment upon them. The