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 about the human condition. . .—Maya Angelou (Braxton, 126)Many have discussed the problematic sense of voice and audience in the works of Maya Angelou, particularly in her works of autobiography. Placing her squarely within the tradition of the slave narrative or the coming-of-age bildungsroman is, indeed, problematic. While, as a proud and well-read African-American woman, the voice of the character Maya does reflect the sass and doublespeak long associated with the prose of her people, her periodic and self-imposed detachment from social mores is more in keeping with the lonely hero of the bildungsroman than with the heroic exemplum of the people common in African-American literature (Gilbert, 85–88). Truly, Maya Angelou stands between these twotraditions, and her voice never fully stems from one or the other. The wavering of her literary voice between two such opposing traditions reflects the individual distinction that is at the heart of her works. Her fractured identifications make her an exemplary voice of African-America, of the female character,and even of the Western canonical tradition in which she was educated. However, the greatest truth in her voice is that of an individual, and where her varied association with fragments of society, race, and culture make her style adherent to many traditions, her admirable story of self-discovery makes her voice unique and her appeal universal.Displacement and IdentityI have been devotingall my time to getParts of you out floatingstill unglued as yet.
The lines of Angelou's poem "Here's to Adhering," characterize the process of piecing together the self-identity that spans the volumes of Maya Angelou's autobiography and poetry. When, in Caged Bird, Angelou describes the multiple burdens of the black 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 masculine prejudice, 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 intact personal identity—as a woman, a black, an American, and an African, and as a member of the society of men.Four crises of self shape Angelou's journey through the volumesof her life story: She places herself in opposition to the black community (of Stamps), the white community (of the larger world), the male gender (the men of her personal relationships), and the nation of America (the country she abandons in order to see from the outside what elements of each cultural association she will take as her own) in order to examine the societal and cultural identifiers with which she comes in contact, and to make her judgment upon them. The