Analysis of Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

 
Maya Angelou was born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. She was born as Marguerite Ann Johnson Phenomenal Woman was first published in Maya Angelou’s poems collection “And Still I Rise” (1978). Later it was published in her book of poetry “Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women” in 1995 along with Maya Angelou’s most popular poems such as ‘Still I Rise’ and ‘Our Grandmothers’.

As an African-American woman growing up in the thirties and forties, Maya Angelou experienced the double burden of racism and sexism in the South. It was an era when African American women who lived in black communities were subject to both the rules of the whites as well as black men. Hence, they were doubly discredited, and their contribution to society devalued. In general, black women have tended to see racism as a more powerful cause of their subordination than sexism. Further, while white women were seen as delicate, feminine, respectable and virtuous, African-American women were seen as unwomanly, primitive, lustful, physically strong, domineering, and dirty. Angelou’s poem is an effort to counter such demeaning stereotypical representations of Black women through the celebration of the Black woman.

 

Overview

Title: The literal meaning of the phrase is “an extraordinary or remarkable woman.”  She refers herself as phenomenal representing black women in the world.

Form: almost a free verse poem, not restricted to a particular form. The 60-line poem consists of four stanzas that are all 14-16 lines long and all follow a similar structural pattern. Each stanza ends with the same four lines that serve as a refrain throughout the poem.

Rhyme scheme: a loose rhyme scheme, not technically pure free verse, quite unpredictable.

Theme: The uniqueness of the beauty of black women, beauty should be defined by self-acceptance not social standards.

 

Deep-end Analysis

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size

But when I start to tell them,

They think I'm telling lies.

I say,

It’s in the reach of my arms

The span of my hips,

The stride of my step,

The curl of my lips.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

contrast: first part of the stanza is about social conventions about beauty and the phase beginning with ‘I say,’ always is her reaction to the social standards.

satire: she satirizes the measurements of beauty which consider about the appearance.

repetition: I’m a woman phenomenally/ phenomenal woman, that’s me (she introduces that she is an extraordinary woman and the very description is about her.)

parallelism: she introduces some features that make her a phenomenal woman. (which are representative characters of black women)

anaphora: ‘the’ (she uses the definite article to draw parallels about the salient features that make her a phenomenal woman)

alliteration: stride of my step

 

The speaker is oozing with self-confidence about her physical features and her potentiality as a woman. She is proud of being a woman and she announces it to the world boldly. She seems to be criticizing the stereotype standards to measure beauty. She claims that real beauty depends on the self-acceptance and self-confidence not narrow social conventions. 

 

I walk into a room

Just as cool as you please,

And to a man,

The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.

I say,

It's the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet.

I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That's me.

 

refrain: last lines are repeated in each stanza emphasizing why she call her a phenomenal woman.

metaphor: a hive of honey bees (men) fire in my eyes (the power and passion)

visual/kinesthetic imagery: It's the fire in my eyes, /And the flash of my teeth, /The swing in my waist,

hyperbole: The fellows stand or/ Fall down on their knees. (to show her superiority)

synecdoche: And the joy in my feet. (it shows her inner quality)

alliteration: hive of honeybees

assonance: fire in my eyes

 

She introduces herself as a woman who is irresistible to men just like an alluring flower whose fragrance attracts bees. She reveals that her power is beyond her appearance which make her so irresistible.

 

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me.

They try so much

But they can't touch

My inner mystery.

When I try to show them

They say they still can't see.

I say,

It's in the arch of my back,

The sun of my smile,

The ride of my breasts,

The grace of my style.

I'm a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That's me.

 

metaphor: inner mystery (the speaker’s self-confidence.) sun of my smile (The sun symbolizes energy as well as self-sufficiency; her smile is energetic like the sunlight.)

visual/kinesthetic imagery: It's in the arch of my back, /The sun of my smile, /The ride of my breasts

 

She seems to mock at the men who cannot explain why the black woman is so irresistible. She invites the world to see the uniqueness of black woman who is the perfect female figure and predominantly unique in her grace. She needs the world to see the unique beauty of black women. She seems critical about standard measurements to value the beauty of women. The refrain suggest that she is proud about being who she is and she claims she is a wonderful woman.   

 

Now you understand

Just why my head's not bowed.

I don't shout or jump about

Or have to talk real loud.

When you see me passing

It ought to make you proud.

I say,

It's in the click of my heels,

The bend of my hair,

the palm of my hand,

The need of my care,

‘Cause I'm a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

 

auditory/kinesthetic/visual imagery: It's in the click of my heels, /The bend of my hair, /the palm of my hand

She directly addresses the reader to be proud of her as she is too proud about herself. She needs the world to project this idea about black womanhood that they should respect her uniqueness. She claims that her uniqueness makes her phenomenal and she does not want to boast about it.

The poem is an inspirational poem which teaches the female of the importance of self-love and self-confidence. It challenges the social stereotypes which determine the boundaries of beauty. As a color discriminated and doubly victimized group, she stands for black women and request the world to see the unique beauty of black womanhood. In feminist point of view, the poem celebrates the beauty of womanhood and the pride of being a woman.

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sources: litchart.com, poemanalysis.com, gradesaver.com resource book provided by NIE

 

 

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