Gender and Racial Bonding in Maya Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman | Maya Angelou’s Novels | TU Thesis
Revolt of Women in The Heart of a Woman | How to Write a Thesis
Traits of African-American Woman’s Experiences in The Heart of a Woman
Maya Angelou in The Heart of a Woman narrates the account of her son’s youth, and returns to the story of her own childhood repeatedly. The text emphasizes the suggestive similarities between her childhood and that of her son. Maya Angelou’s overwhelming sense of displacement and instability is, ironically, her son’s burden too. But she remains stable and unshakable from the patriarchal and racial domination and exploitation. She time and again presents herself as an active member protesting against such dominations and exploitations.
It is interesting to note that Maya Angelou, a writer of Harlem renaissance dominated by the established male writers of the period, was able to receive much recognition through her short stories. During her time, the basic characteristics of Afro-American literature were generally considered to be defensive or reactive against the White oppressions. There were also these who believed that Black literature would not have existed if there was no racism. Therefore, African American writers were expected to write about their sorrows. If they did not do so, they were considered to be forgetful of their past and present. The one subject for them was thought to be the race and its sufferings. But what is distinctive and important about Angelou in The Heart of a Woman is that she does not deal with the black white relation with that importance as other writers of her time were doing. This is because she knows that African-Americans do love, hate, fight, play and have diverse interests in life like other human beings. Her contemporaries, Arna Bontemps, Richard Wright and Alain Locke felt that her books simply ignored the basic facts of Afro-American life by ignoring race relations. Then, the question arises—can not a text be truly African-American if it does not deal with the race relations?
So, the purpose of this study is to argue that Angelou’s most acclaimed novel, The Heart of a Woman, inaugurates an alternative mode of African American writing. It is a break away from the dominant tradition of using Afro- American literature primarily as propaganda in the civil rights struggle. It is more concerned with a distinct sense of an African American women’s position in the American literature through the heroine’s mobility from place to place as her revolt against the rules and regulations of the patriarchal system for her independence. In The Heart of a Woman, she focuses on women’s role and their status in the society regulated by racial and patriarchal norms and values.
After its publication in 1981, this novel has gained a wide range of critical considerations from a number of academicians, researchers and scholars alike. Critics have viewed this novel from different perspectives. Neubauer opine that the story of Guy’s youth in Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman mirrors the problems faced by herself. He also remarks how the relationship of a mother and child is considered. He remarks, “Angelou includes numerous anecdotes from Guy’s youth which mirror problems she has also faced. These compelling accounts suggest the recurring pattern of displacement and rejection in the relationship between mother and child. [. . .] Guy expects his mother to offer him constant attention and affection as well as the basic requirements of food and shelter” (124).
Neubauer visualizes the relationship between her son Guy and herself as standing in a critical point where they have to overwork only to sustain their lives. The life of both mother and son are in a crux in the sense that both of them are the victims of the then society of USA. She has shown pathetic and miserable condition of women and child who still have fear that their basic rights will not be granted to them. The rights are actually dismantled by the government because of their race supposing them only the puppets in their hand.
Sidonie Ann Smith examines Angelou’s work in term of its nature of imprisoning environment from where women seek to escape. It is interesting to note from Smith that he finds strong desire of escaping from the chain of patriarchy. But besides this, he finds her life moving from childhood to womanhood. He asserts, ” Maya Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman, like [Richard] Wright’s, opens with a primal childhood scene that brings into focus the nature of the imprisoning environment from which the self will seek escape” (371). He also points out that she is moving from immaturity to maturity on the one hand and on the other, the more she gets maturity more she gets trapped in the chain of patriarchy. He observes black girl child trapped within the cage of her own diminished self-image around which interlock the bars of natural and social forces. The oppression of natural forces, of physical appearance and processes, foists a self-consciousness on all young girls who must grow from children into women.
Smith is of the opinion that Angelou’s novel brings the imprisoning environment for women in the racist society. Smith also sees that a black girl is trapped into the cage just like a parrot. The compulsion of the girls is that they have to grow from children into women even if they are under the oppression of natural forces i.e. the racists.
Commenting on the issue of Angelou’s experience, Paula Stewart Brush engages with the troubles faced by Angelou:
Angelou describes her experience applying for a position as a San Francisco streetcar worker, a segregated, whites-only position. She, like Hunter-Gault, notes the support of her family and friends and mentions the ‘Negro organization to whom I appealed for support’. When she goes to apply for the position, she confronts a white clerk. To combat her nervousness Angelou speaks in what she calls ‘supercilious accents’ and asks to be ‘presented to the personal manager’. The white clerk, however, gives her a very polite runaround that is intended to dismiss her. (183)
Brush views that Angelou though tried to speak in a accented language, because of the patriarchal domination that supposes women as inferior, emotional and suitable for household works, is finally rejected from the job.
Daisy Aldan, concerning the protest of females in order to establish their basic rights, writes:
The Heart of a Woman, the fourth volume in her autobiography, deals largely with the vibrant years of the blacks’ struggle for civil rights, a time when the black community was alive with rebellion and change. The author was in the center of that struggle as performer, writer, coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. (697)
Aldan argues that The Heart of a Woman deals with the vibrant years of black’s struggle for civil rights. He views Angelou as a bold character who participates in struggles being writer, performer and coordinator. She is presented as an active participant and the leader from the side of black females.
Adam David Miller in The Black Scholar extends the content of Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman as an account of black woman’s experiences:
The Heart of a Woman, what she keeps constant throughout the book is that it is the account of a black W-O-M-A-N’s life. Her experiences with women, her love and respect for them and theirs for her, her niceness and delicacy in dealing with them, from her mother to her friends, even to mere acquaintances, these could provide a model of conduct for any woman to follow. (49)
In a patriarchal society women are ought to be loving and respectful. The women should now show her abrupt behaviour while dealing with males so that others will praise her as a model. Focusing on similar subject matter, Siphokazi Koyana gives detail about Angelou:
While pursuing self-fulfilling career, ambitions and living her own life often means relying on kin to help care for Guy, in the mid-twentieth century in America, the ethical ideological norm seems to be that good mothers are unselfish, meaning they put their children’s needs before their own. In this context, therefore, Maya’s confessed sense of guilt about leaving her son with relatives reflects the larger cultural expectations that a mother stays with her child at all times. (38)
Koyana describes the habit of woman as caring more to their children than to themselves in order to show the love of a mother. Women by nature are gifted with the child bearing capacity that makes them care much for their child than themselves.
The above observations show that the novel has undergone diverse readings and interpretations; symbolic, a new technique, loss, immoral, biographical, character study and feministic trends. The present study is an attempt to add a critical approach how the females like Angelou are obliged to follow the patriarchal as well as white’s commands.
As the term feminism covers a broader scope and embraces different aspect of humanity despite its focus on the entire issues of women, several dimensions have been shown ranging from liberal attitude and the demand for equal rights for sexes to the radical one voicing out the extreme ideology that tends to theoretically turn the patriarchy upside down. Liberal and radical feminism are distinguished in terms of their intensity of demand and the arrogance. While alongside them, other feminists have developed with their affiliation to certain theoretical backgrounds. They include political feminism, Marxist or socialist feminism, psychoanalytic, French feminist (ecriture feminine), bio-feminism, postmodernist or post structuralist feminism, postcolonial feminism and others. To move into the brief study of these dimensions, it is relevant at first to deal a little with liberal and radical feminism.
Liberal Feminism is a moderate or mainstream face of feminism that explains women’s position in society. It addresses the problems of unequal rights or artificial barriers to women’s participation in the public world, beyond the family and household. It shows a critical concern with the value of individual autonomy and freedom from supposedly unwarranted restrictions by other. Public citizenship and the attainment of equality with men in the public arena are central to liberal feminism. By presuming the sameness between men and women, it reflects the concept of a fundamentally and sexually undifferentiated human nature by emphasizing that women can do anything what men do. Liberal feminists do not perceive the sexes to be at war or dismiss that which has been associated with men. Unlike radical feminists, they emphasize reform of society rather than revolutionary changes. Liberal feminism draws on ‘Welfare Liberalism’, though it started as a from of liberal political thought influenced by writers such as J. S. Mill. They put forward their main agenda as collective responsibility for the formation and development of liberal society, which supports equal opportunity between sexes. They do not want to either prove women as superior to men folk or voice their slogans against men. They believe in reform not in revolution.
Radical feminism appeared in Elaine Showalter’s reintegration of gender studies and got nourished by her followers. It has been established as a feminist literary criticism, an extreme rebellious stream which appears as hostile to patriarchy unlike liberal feminism. It offers a real challenge to and rejection of the liberal orientation towards the public world of men. It gives a positive value to womanhood rather than supporting a nation of assimilating into arenas of activity associated with men. They arrogantly focus on women’s oppression as in a social order dominated by men. The nation of sexual oppression is intimately connected with a strong emphasis on the sisterhood of women. Radical feminist demands in literature an expression of female sexuality which bursts through the bonds of male logic with a poetic power that defines the tyranny of logo centric meaning. Besides, sexual oppression, radical feminists often view other forms of power, for example, unequal power relations within capitalism- as derived from patriarchy. Radical feminism describes sexual as the or at least a fundamental form of oppression and the primary oppression for women. They state the most strongly of all feminist traditions that men as a group are the main enemy. This approach wants to bring about radical changes in the social configuration in which the position of women is not only redefined but also reestablished as a respectable and important, commonly suggesting that the position of man be in a position of power relative to all women, and possibly some men.
They always emphasize on radical change. According to Maria Mies, “Feminists are those who dare to break the conspiracy of silence about the oppressive, unequal man-women relationship and who want to change it” (Mies 6). It encourages some degree of separatism from men because it recommends putting women first making them a primary concern. This approach shows that without change there cannot be man-woman relationship. They have a strong interest in recovering as discovering positive elements in femininity asserting in essence that it is good to be a woman and to form bounds with other women. Elizabeth Grosz calls it a feminism of difference radical feminism usually presents a historically continuous clear-cut difference between men and women. This theory generally advocates a revolutionary model of social change. The agenda of radical feminist writings is to counter women’s supposedly natural, biological inferiority and subordination within patriarchal society by asserting their at least equal (or superior) status to men. A crucial aspect of that agenda is for women to gain control over their own bodies, biology and to value and celebrate women’s bodies.
Influenced by a great variety of theoretical emergences, the feminism presently has been a broad concept which covers a broader scope and includes different aspects of humanity despite its focus on the entire issues of women. It, now, no more remains a unitary theory as procedure. It manifests a great variety of critical vantage points and procedures, including adaptations of psychoanalytic, Marxist and diverse post-structuralism theories. According to its affiliation to certain theoretical backgrounds the Umbrella concept ‘feminism’ can be briefly studied by dividing it into the following dimensions.
The dimensions of feminism which is equally known as English model of feminism, has a closer link with socialism and Marxism. It analyses the connection between gender and class, emphasizes on popular culture, and provides a feminist critique of Marxist literary theory. Deriving their impetus from the changing socio-economic conditions and changing balances of power between the sexes, the leading Marxist and socialist feminists such as Mary Jacobus, Rosalind Loward, Michele Balrette, Juliet Mitchell and Cora Kaplan combine Marxist theoretical interest in tie production and ideology of literature with feminist concerns for women’s writing.
Marxist and socialist feminist believe that the text is a part of process of the social construction of meanings and subjectivities. And, the literature is one of the ways in which gender relations and gender ideology are produced and reproduced. Gender, in their opinion, is not produced simply by masculinity thought, but rather it is the product of that thought as it related to the particular ways in which women’s productive, reproductive and domestic life is organized. They consider the notion of femininity and masculinity as myths or ideologies. Such beliefs, for them, are the values that are not detached from social life but rather are lived or embodied in what we say and do, and have no other existence.
Marxist or socialist feminism, therefore, often takes an explicitly and aggressively ideological stance, stressing the important contribution of literature and literary criticism to a radical, even revolutionary reformation of culture.
The socio-historic dimension of feminism, which is more popularly known as American school of feminism, tries to recover women’s historical experiences as readers and writers. It focuses on exploring the awakening feminine consciousness reflected in literature by and about women. By close textual analysis, it often stresses a psychological maturation not only through recognition of gender difference but also through a growing sense of “sisterhood” with other women. They tend to recover the patriarchal remains in the male-author texts through close reading and replace them with their own. The socio-historical feminism has its two groups practicing two different ways of feminist criticism.
One group practiced ‘feminist critique’ examining how women characters are portrayed, exposing the patriarchal ideology implicit in the so-called classic, and demonstrating that attitudes and traditions reinforcing systematic masculine dominance are inscribed in the literary cannon. Another group practiced ‘gynocriticism’ (in Showalter’s term) studying writings by women and examining the female literary tradition to find out how women writers across the ages have perceived themselves and imagined reality. Showalter identifies Thomas Hardy in the first group and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Muriel Spark in the second. Patrica Meyer Spacs, Ellen Moers, Ealine Showalter, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar are the prominent socio-historic feminists who have by their diachronic investigations and studies of the path for a coherent narrative of female literally history describing the evolutionary stages of women’s writings during the last 250 years.
The French school of feminism since its base is in Jacques Lacan’s Neo-Freudian Psychoanalysis, Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction and Roland Barth’s structuralism the psychoanalytic and deconstructive feminists stress the subtle but essential participation of language in the patriarchal forces of society. Looking at the ways that the femine has been defined represented, as repressed in the symbolic system of language, metaphysic, psychoanalysis and art, they claim all western language in all their features, being male-engendued, male constituted, and male dominated discourse.
Julia Kristina’s From One Identity to Another (1975) and Helene Cixous’ The Laugh of the Medusa (1980) are the two important essays of psychoanalytic and deconstructive feminism both of which emphasize women discourse with female morphology speaking their specific experiences. For Kristeva, female discourse that breaks with tradition is a political act of dissidence, a form of feminist action, and for Helene Cixous, Women’s writing has genuinely revolutionary force. As she argues, “when the repressed of their culture and their society return, it is an explosive, utterly destructively staggering return, with a force never yet unleashed” (Showalter, The Feminist 9).
The researcher uses Feminism as a methodological tool to analyze The Heart of a Woman to justify the topic of the study. The study has been divided into three chapters. The first chapter highlights on a very short biographical note of the novelist, literature review, objectives and significance of the study. The second chapter is the textual analysis in which the researcher has made citation and illustration of the activities of the characters to prove the hypothesis. The third chapter is the conclusion and finding of the research.
Racial and Gender Bonding as a Means of Empowering African-American Woman
The present study aims to explore the representation of African American women in Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman. It focuses on how the protagonist, Angelou, is treated inferior and secondary to both males as well as to the whites. Angelou’s pathetic condition in a male and race dominated society shows her pain, sorrows and sufferings. However, the novel also explores her resistance showing how she becomes able to gather people on her side and revolt against the gender and race opposed forms of repressions, “I went barefoot, wore jeans, and both of us wore rough–dried clothes. Although I took Guy to a San Francisco barber, I allowed my own hair to grow into a wide unstraightened hedge, which made me look, at a distance, like a tall brown tree whose branches had been clipped” (2).
Angelou evokes the sense of ugliness which patriarchy uses as a tool to criticize women in society but the same patriarchy valorizes the beauty of women when she is in favor. She describes her look as ugly as a tall brown tree whose branches had been clipped. The clipped branches evoke the sense that Angelou’s rights have been cut off from her. She is denied of her rights, identity, pride and glory. In this context, Cameron speaks about women’s silence in context of women’s oppression. He points out the reason of women’s silence in western societies. He said, “Females have traditionally defined and symbolized the private domain as opposed to the public; when they appeared to the public, their status is perceived as marginal, abnormal or ambiguous” (128). Because of their ambiguous status, women are silenced and they feel anxiety and experience conflict with self-identification.
The male dominated society does not provide privacy to women. In such societies women long for their lost privacy. She asserts, “In less than a year, I began to yearn for privacy, wall-to-wall carpets and manicures. Guy was becoming rambunctious and young-animal wild” (2). The women are presented as waning since they cannot use anything to get their private life whereas Guy, her son, being male is becoming rambunctious and young-animal wild.
The unfavourable time and place of women is also evoked when Angelou herself feels that it is important to be in the right place and time. She asserts, “It was important to be in the right place at the right time, and no place seemed so right to me in 1958 as Laurel Canyon” (3). So far as it is concerned with the pangs of women, Angelou is also victimized and suffers a lot in search of right place but cannot find. The world is guided by patriarchy and women are remotely controlled by it. She feels humiliated at Laurel Canyon in 1958 and regrets for failing to find right place and right time for her.
Angelou’s sense of being defeated, inferior and feeling of less talent also evokes that she is entirely under the control of patriarchy. She shows her desperation as:
I, on the other hand, was a little-known night-club singer, who was said to have more determination than talent. I wanted desperately to live in the glamarous surroundings. I accepted as fictious the tales of amateurs being discovered at lunch counters, yet I did believe it was important to be in the right place at the right time, and no place seemed so right to me in 1958 as Laurel Canyon. (3)
The hegemonic power of patriarchy makes her almost hypnotized. She is time and again choked by others as well as from her own sickness and less courage. She finds her surrounding glamorous whereas she is living in the midst desperately which also accounts that she is surrounded by patriarchal norms and obliged to see glamour of other not to feel them. She also does not find a place that is suitable for protesting against such norms and values which hinder her in securing her goals, her ultimate revolt against patriarchy as well as racism.
When Angelou wants to take home for rent, she is not trusted by males. The patriarchy deceives female because it does not want females to be independent in a society. As she writes, “I answered a ‘For Rent’ and the landlord told me the house had been taken that very morning” (4). The single women like Angelou are victimized as well as distrusted. The landlord’s reply to her symbolizes that he really does not want women and black to take his home for rent. In this context Richard Bellamy and Andrew Mason write, “The second insight leads to an exploration of the extent to which women have been understood as subordinate, dependent and emotional, and so excluded from the category of ‘individuals’ within liberal theorising” (134). Like the way Bellamy and Mason describe, Angelou is treated as dependent to others.
The submissive mentality of Angelou is gradually transforming into the revolting voice. She finds her experience with low class people like street people, criminals makes curse herself. She learns the language of such people and becomes able to understand the vulgarity of Billy Holiday. She asserts:
Experience with street people, hustlers, gamblers and petty criminals had exposed me to cursing. Years in night-club dressing rooms, in cabarets and juke joints had taught me every combination of profanity, or so I thought. Billie Holiday’s language was a mixture of mockery and vulgarity that caught me without warning. (6)
Angelou gets chocked by the Haliday’s language which was a mixture of mockery to her. She finds her language dominating. Actually Holiday’s language is that of Master’s language and Angelou finds it vulgar and as an indication of threat to her.
Not only Angelou is chocked and dominated by the language of Holiday, she is also inferiorized by Wilkie who takes her not as a great singer. Angelou quotes how Wilkie comments her:
‘Wilkie tells me you’re a singer. You a jazz singer too? You any good?’
‘No, really not, I don’t have good pitch.’
‘Do you want to be a great singer? You want to compete with me?’
‘No, I don’t want to compete with anybody. I’m an entertainer, making a living’. (6)
Angelou is once again bruised by the repressive patriarchal language. She gets harsh criticism from Wilkie. Wilkie also asks Angelou if she is a good singer. Angelou also cannot say with determination that she is a good singer rather she confirms herself as an ordinary singer with not good pitch. The voice of black is double negated in the sense that Wilkie inferiorizes her and she herself confesses her inferiority. Angelou’s rejecting in competing with Wilkie is also important to notice because she could have challenged her but it is because Angelou lacks courage, she lacks her supporters not because she has bad pitch. Angelou simple tells that she is only an entertainer who entertains other by singing and in return makes her living.
Women are also supposed to be weaker than males. Women are described as unintelligent having emotions lacking reasons. The patriarchy uses such definitions to interpret women. Sheila Ruth in her text Issues in Feminism posits her view on female stereotype and its effect as:
They all say that women as human beings are substandard: less intelligent; less moral; less competent; less able physically, psychologically, and spiritually; small of body, mind and character; often bad or destructive. These and other stereotypical images of women are destructive to as. In their negative, deprecatory and ugly aspect, they flourish in the minds of women, who are forced to live them. The tragedy of female stereotype is that it impels women not only to appear substandard, but to become substandard; it moves to form us into the loathed monster. If the work of the stereotype be done, we are reduced to the weak, hapless creatures. Life and personhood defined within such patriarchal constraints must be distorted. (96)
Female are stereotyped as unintelligent, incompetent, physically weak to male. This stereotypical image forces women to become substandard, weak and hapless creatures. Female stereotype is the patriarchal definition that is to be broken apart.
As described by Ruth, patriarchy defines females in a stereotypical manner assigning them with the negative qualities. Billy knows the patriarchal tricks, believes that men can do everything because they are capable of doing. She writes, “Men. Men can really do it to you. Women would too, if they had the nerve. They are just as greedy; they’re just scared to let on” (10). The physical torture is another cause which makes women do whatever males say. Angelou asserts the physical pain of Billie as, “I had heard stories of Billie being beaten by men, cheated by drug pushers and hounded by narcotics agents, still I thought she was the most paranoid person I had ever met” (11).
She shows sympathy to women because women are forced to get child. She explores her pathos for not having Guy’s father. She writes, “Guy was born to me when I was an unmarried teenager, so I had given him my father’s name. I didn’t want Billie to know that much about our history” (12). It is evident that Angelou does not want Billie to know about her entire history because her history is painful.
Greedy is what Billie’s basic nature. Angelou, for being black and female also gets victimized in the hands of white women like Billie. Billie is a representative of passive follower of patriarchy. She does not notice Angelou’s clothes rather she is emotionally enchanted with the beauty of Guy. So, she offers to buy new clothes to Guy. Billie opines that people living in a white district ruled by patriarchy a boy should not wear raggedy clothes. Billie comments upon Angelou as: “Naw I’m going out with him. But how the hell can you let him wear raggedy clothes like that? You living in a white district. Everybody be having their eyes on him. Guy, tomorrow, if you mamma will take me, I’m going to the store and buy you some nice things” (12).
Women have fear of insecurity. They are not sure whether they can protect themselves from male or not. Angelou feels such insecurity when she enters into the restaurant. It is the patriarchy that counts female as coward, weak and without courage. Such definitions also prevail in Angelou’s writing. She presents the horror scene, “I saw the black bodies hanging from Southern trees. I saw the lynch victims’ blood glide from the leaves down the trunks and onto the roots” (13). Angelou fears with the past events when she saw the black bodies hanging, victims’ blood glide from leaves and onto the roots. She fears with such events and feels insecure.
Billie Holiday not only inferiorizes her but also points some of the good suggestions which helps Angelou to be determined and courageous. She asserts Billie’s voice as:
You’re going to be famous. But it won’t be for singing. Now, wait, you already know you can’t sing all that good. But you’re going to be real famous. Well, you better start asking yourself right now, ‘When I get famous, who can I trust?’ All crackers is bad and niggers ain’t much better. Just take care of your son. (17)
Holiday is here more frank to Angelou than before. She also helps Angelou and suggests not to trust anyone because all the people are selfish neither White nor Black. She writes:
My entrance stopped all action. Every head turned to see, every eye blazed, first with doubt, then fury. I wanted to run back to my car, race to Los Angeles, back to the postered walls of my house [. . . ] The crowd made an aisle and I walked through the silence, knowing that before I reached the lounge door, a knife could be slipped in my back or a rope lassoed around my neck. (27)
It is also a patriarchal trend that females are weaker than male. So, women are more victimized in the hands of male. Angelou also feels such fear in her mind that she walks silently so that no one will notice her. She becomes hallucinated with the fear that before she reaches the door, someone might slip a knife in her back or might trap her in her neck with a rope. It also indicates that many females have been stabbed or hanged by patriarchy as a punishment for breaking the so-called patriarchal rule. It is also told to her that Blacks cannot get the membership of the women’s union. She writes, “Because they told me Negro women couldn’t get in the union” (30).
Females are supposed to be pretty and good to males. Patriarchy defines females as a slave indulging herself to household works and in service of males. John, a representative of patriarch reminds Angelou of her duty in a patriarchal society as:
You have to deal with masters. There might be some argument over whether they are vicious masters, but be assured that they all think they are masters. [ . . .] And if they think that, then you’d better believe they think you are the slave. Maybe a smart slave, a pretty slave, a good slave, but a slave just the same. (37)
Supporting the argument Siphokazi Koyana writes:
Angelou wrestles with the need to work to provide for her baby. Given her racial and class background, it should come as no surprise that Angelou’s experience of motherhood is so inseparably intertwined with work. As a black American woman, she comes from a long tradition of female independence and responsibility. Slavery never allowed for domesticity among slave women who had to work in the plantation house or the fields. (35)
In a patriarchal society females are separated or rejected when a male does not want her. The patriarchal society makes such rules so as to establish its supremacy. Females are always supposed to be enjoyed by males and thrown in a ditch where there are a lot works to do. In much the same way, Angelou’s singleness is also indicated as she is rejected by her mate. Angelou writes, “Her singleness indicates she has rejected, or has been rejected by her mate. Yet she is raising children who will become mates” (41).
It is the patriarchy that supposes female as weak, irrational and lacking intellectual clarity. Women are supposed to be less intellectual or guided not by reason but by emotion. When Angelou writes a play, she is questioned by a writer that how many acts are there in her play. Because Angelou does not know how to make plots and scenes in the play, she answered only one. It is the supposition of patriarchy that play is made in several acts. And a women that writes a play consisting single act is ridiculous to them.
It is natural phenomenon in the male-governed society that women’s work are criticized severely. Though Angelou writes play titled One Life One Love, the male critic comments it as, “One life. One love? His voice was a rasp of disbelief. “I found no life and very little love in the play from the opening of the act to its unfortunate end” (43). The patriarchy often assumes works of women inferior lacking intellectual clarity. The writer comments that he found no life and very little love in the play. He also stresses that the play is unfortunate. Buying and selling of Black bodies is common in the white-dominated society. The blacks were commodified like animals:
He went to his master and asked how much he was worth. The white man asked why the question. The negro said he just wanted to know how much slaves cost. The white man said he usually paid eight hundred to twelve hundred dollars for a good slave, but in the case of Tom, because he was getting old and couldn’t father any children, if he wanted to buy himself, the master would let him go for six hundred dollars. [. . .] He returned to the white man and said, ‘Boss, freedom is a little too high right now. I’m going to wait till the price come down.’ (46-47)
When the black man goes to buy oneself he finds his own worth much than he could purchase thus, black man is obliged to cage himself.
And, it is hard for Angelou to act as a gallant, brave, courageous women because she does not get any help from male writers. Patriarchy on the other hand wants females to be its slaves. So, it does not want to help female writers. Angelou comes to realize that the mass is ready to follow her after hearing her song. She also assimilates that while hearing the song that evokes the ethos of freedom she gets support from blacks. She asserts:
When I returned and announced that my encore was another. African song, called, in Swahili, ‘Freedom’, They applauded, ready to go wit me to that wished for land. [. . .] By evening of the first day, I saw the power of the black grapevine. During the six o’clock show someone screamed from the audience, “Sing Freedom, Sing Freedom”. (54-55)
Angelou comes to sing song of Freedom which gets much praised and even gets support from the large number of audiences. She feels as if she is going to get support from the blacks. She, for the first time realizes that there is power in her song, there is support for what she longs or wants.
In contrary to her support, sometimes women’s work is not taken as perfect. The work of women is considered as inferior and not sufficient for patriarchy. Though patriarchy shows its face supporting females but actually it is criticizing. Angelou asserts, “Some ‘yeahs’ and ‘that’s rights’ popped up in the theater. They angered my detractor. He shouted, “Go to hell, you old bitch. I paid for this shit too”‘ (58). Angelou is criticized by a boy. The boy uses non-polite words. Actually, patriarchy thinks women are emotional but actually the boy, being emotional scolds with whatever words come in his mouth.
Women in large cities are victimized by males as well as whites. Women regret that they live in the big cities but cannot get their rights. She writes, “What were we doing in New York City, while black children were being set upon by dogs, black women were raped and black men maimed and killed?” (61-62). The black women are brutally raped and killed. The women’s children are set upon dogs. At that time Angelou realizes that black women are the most dominated, most hated by whites as well as black males. She asserts:
We, the most hatred, must take hate into our hands and by the miracle of love, turn loathing into love. We, the most feared and apprehensive, must take fear and by love, change it into hope. We, who die daily in large and small ways, must take the demon death and turn it into Life. (64)
Angelou comes to know that black women are mostly hated. Angelou also finds something hidden in such hate and tries to persuade her followers and supporters to transform hatred into love miraculously.
However, her voice of optimism provokes the sense of hope out of hatred and fear. She also reveals how blacks are killed daily in large and small numbers. Her objection of binary created by Whites reverses and turns upside down as she insists on taking demon death turning into life. But regardless of her efforts, there are certain boundaries, certain obligations which obliges in fostering the black culture, black unity and power of black. She finds Stanley’s words harsh and really humiliating. She writes:
Stanley cleared his throat and chuckled. ‘Oh, Miss Angelou, you’re surely not trying to tell us that Negro entertainers don’t need the same time as white entertainers because they are just naturally endowed with talent?’ [. . .]. ‘Black entertainers have had to be ten times better than anyone else, historically [. . .]’. (69)
The voice of Stanley makes a remark that if Angelou wants to show performance or wants to sing a song full of the ethos of black’s identity, experience and will for freedom, she has to consider on time. She must take times left by whites. It is also argued that black entertainers have had to be ten times better than anyone else. It suggests that black people do not lack intelligence rather they do not get chance in order to foster their talent, in order to make their talent performed in front of whites and rest of the world.
The patriarchal society laughs at the failure of women. Angelou’s first writing experience chokes herself; she is even humiliated by whites and taken her writing as inferior and nonsense. Women are supposed to be weak and cannot compete with males. It is patriarchy that hopes females should ask support from males:
‘I’ve had women scream when they saw me, and some broads laugh when I come up on them all of a sudden, but I never had anybody break down and start crying. He was patting my shoulder. You’re a first, baby. I appreciate what you’re doing. You’re a first. Cry on. Cry your heart out. I’m enjoying this.’ (73)
Here, Godfrey helps Angelou to calm down her cry. She has been chocked for she could not make good play. But, Godfrey in a humorous tone says that he is enjoying the crying.
Angelou accepts that she cannot write the play and even she do not know from where to start. Being an intellectual and male Godfrey says her to start with Act I, Scene I. He also tells that Angelou should follow the metrical pattern of Shakespeare. She writes:
‘Godfrey, I can’t write the play. I don’t even know where to start.’
‘Well hell, you start with Act I, Scene I, same way Shakespeare started’
My throat hurt and tears began to well up behind my eyes.
‘I can’t write the damn thing. I’ve agreed to do something I can’t do’ (75).
After getting hint from Godfrey, she builds her confidence. She agrees with herself that she will write but she cannot make it.
It is the patriarchy that supposes women guided by emotion. Angelou explores that she is also emotional. She also regrets that a handsome man never asked for her phone number: “Sylvester Leeks had hugged me often, but never asked for my phone number. If I had the chance, I could moan some salty songs. I had been living with empty arms and rocks in my bed” (76). Women like Angelou on the one hand are supposed to be lacking intellectual clarity. On the other hand, they are guided by emotion. Being emotional she regrets that she hugged Sylvester Leeks several times but she could not make herself engage with him in a sexual activity.
Angelou also regrets that being alone she has to sleep alone in her bed and she feels that she is sleeping in rocks. She regrets that there is no one to hug her in her bedroom. Not only that the Song of Leontyne evokes the suppression and exploitation of blacks by whites. As she asserts, “Leontyne Watts sang a cappella, ‘Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child’, and everyone knew that the words meant that oppression had made orphans of black Americans and forced us to live as misfits in the very land we had helped to build” (78).
It is the whites who forcibly make African women pregnant and leave them. The regression comes when Africans realize that they helped to build the nation and largely ignored at present. They could not taste the sweetness of freedom due to the white superiority, whites’ master mentality. Angelou also remarks that she volunteered in order to get freedom, in order to help blacks raise consciousness. She asserts, “Stanley allowed a little surprise into his voice. ‘Are you volunteering? We can’t afford to pay a salary, you know’” (79).
The regression of Angelou becomes more vibrant when she finds no meaning of her life, no goal of her own, no safe career not because she is unintelligent and coward but because of racial discrimination. She writes:
We were meant for great things. The size and power of our adversaries were not greater than our capabilities. If we admitted that slavery and its child, legal discrimination, were declarations of war, then Oscar and I and all our friends were generals in the army and we would be among the officers who accepted the white flag of surrender when the battle was done. Amanda’s husband, Buss, inspired by the fever of protest, made clothes for me based on African designs. (85)
Angelou believes that blacks were meant for great things. She is determined on the power of blacks. She also imagines that if blacks were not dominated, slaved or discriminated they would be generals in the army or among the officers. She also shows the hint of attraction of whites towards their protest. She finds some whites supporting the black civil rights movement as Amanda’s husband does. Buss actually brings clothes for Angelou based on the African designs since he loves Africans.
Though women try to compete themselves with males but cannot succeed. Angelou writes that boys will be boys, “Mom Willie called from the dining room, “That her?” I answered and she walked into the foyer. She was looking serious and shaking her head. Her look and gesture said, “Well boys, will be boys, and that’s life” (89). Angelou also tries to know what actually ‘savages’ means. She tries to find the meaning why whites dominate black calling them as savage, irrational, inferior and coward. She asserts:
First, I had to understand the thinking of the Savages. They were young black men, preying on other young black men. They had been informed, successfully, that they were worthless, and everyone who looked like them was equally without worth. Each sunrise brought a day without hope and each evening the sun set on a day lacking in achievement. Whites, who ruled the world, owned the air and food and jobs and schools and fair play, had refused to share with them any of life’s necessities— and somewhere, deeper than their consciousness, they believed the whites were correct. They, the black youth, young lords of nothing, were born without value and would creep, like blinded moles, their lives long in the darkness, under the earth, chewing on roots, driven far from the light. (93)
Angelou continues her detail account with the negative connotations assigned for blacks. It is the racial injustice that hegemonizes black people as inferior, worthless. Angelou also reveals that blacks are bilaterally suppressed by blacks and whites. On the one hand, blacks have been largely exploited by whites and on the other by other blacks to. She also accounts whites as world rulers who owned everything including food, clothes, jobs, schools and even the air which is the basic need for every human being. She means to say that whites have totally controlled everything and left nothing to be used unless they give permission. She surprisingly says that how these blacks stayed mute and thought that whites were right.
Angelou also charges that birth of a black man is nothing than without value, creep, blind and dark, under the earth chewing the roots. She considers blacks as staying in a place where no light can be seen.
Angelou presents herself as contradicting woman and trapped in a dilemma. She could not decide whether she can handle the post of coordinator. And, prior to this, she even do not what the rights and responsibilities of a coordinator. She asserts:
‘All right, but what is a coordinator? Can I do it? I’d rather not try than try and fail.’
‘That’s stupid talk, Maya. Every try will not succeed. But if you’re going to live, live at all, your business is trying. And if you fail once, so what? Old folks say, every shuteye ain’t sleep and every goodbye ain’t gone. You fail, you get up and try again.’ (102)
Here too, Angelou is unknown about the diplomatic affairs which are considered as male-owned positions like coordinator. New appointment of females in such a position of coordinator is exception. On the other hand, Angelou fears that she may fail to handle the position of coordinator. John Killens helps to reduce by accompanying Angelou in her controversy. Killens as a representative of patriarchy sets up himself as a bold and determined character. He also teaches Angelou to try again even if she fails.
On the other hand, there is black voice standing as a bold and strong in roads. She courage and determination of blacks is accelerated by the speech given by different freedom fighters. She asserts:
I understand. Disappointment drivers our young men to some desperate lengths. Sympathy and sadness kept his voice low. ‘That’s why we must fight and win. We must save the Baileys of the world. And Maya, never stop loving him. Never give up on him. Never deny him. And remember, he is freer than those who hold him behind bars.’ (108)
It is not the blacks who lack strength but they need support. Blacks want freedom not the domination. So, the freedom fighters speaks and appeals audiences not to stay in disappointment and sadness rather fight and win and get freedom. He instructs in such as way that resists the black ideology and uplifts the voice of blacks, strengthens their courage.
Killing, beating and raping of women are the cases that are prevalent in patriarchal society. Angelou depicts on the pain that women felt when they were raped. She asserts that even in communist country women are victimized more: “Wasn’t no communist country that put my grandpappa in slavery. Wasn’t no community lunched my poppa or raped my mamma” (112).
Loneliness haunts women in patriarchal society since women are supposed to be coward neither they can protect their child nor themselves. Angelou asserts her pain for not having husband, “I was an unmarried woman with the rent to pay and a fifteen-year-old son, who had decided that anything was better than another dull evening at home with mother” (115). For Guy too, not being with father, anything is better than dull evening at home with mother. Guy wants to learn the petty patriarchal tricks but he cannot since he is fatherless. Not only that, women feel dissatisfied when there is no husband in her home. It is the patriarchy that habituates women to serve males and teaches them not to live alone after marriage.
In society women are supposed to be working at home. They are ought to do household works not the official one. Here a man asks Angelou in a suspicious way that if she works or have a job:
Are you a working girl or do you have a job?
The softness of his voice belied the fact that he was asking if I was a prostitute. I knew better than to act either ignorant or offended. I said my name was Maya. I was from California and I had a job in Manhattan, lived alone with my teenage son three blocks away. (115)
Angelou takes his question with suspicion too. Patriarchy blames woman as guided by emotion but the same patriarchy wants to celebrate the emotion of women. It wants to engrave the identity, pride and dignity of women. It severely criticizes and questions upon the identity and pride of women.
There are also petty tricks of patriarchy that women should be sensual but not much. In this concern Angelou connotes, “She should be sensual, caring for her appearance, but taking special care to minimize her sexuality” (116). Here, in a patriarchal society women were taken as an object of pleasure and entertainment. Patriarchy wants to celebrate the body of women but at the same time it does not want women to be strong. Her sensuousness should be limited within the boundaries created by society.
Since women are supposed to have guided by emotion their only concern is with getting sexual pleasure. Angelou writes, “Accepting the first drink from a strange man is very much like a nice having sex on a first date. I sat waiting for the second offer” (117). It is evident that Angelou herself accepts first drink from a strange man and feels as if having sex on a first date. She also shows her emotional desire because she not only accepts the drink but also wishes for the second offer that is the fulfillment of sexual thrust. Angelou also pretends later that she cannot drink with a nameless man and asks for his name, “I didn’t know you, I didn’t know your name. A lady can’t drink with a nameless man” (117). It shows that being alone in her bed she is frustrated and wants to make relationship with strange men too.
In the first visit to the stranger’s house she becomes emotional and gets involved in sexual activity. She fulfills her sexual thrust with the strange man. She also invites him to her house after receiving the lavish satisfaction, “We had two dinner dates, where I learned that he was a bail bondsman and divorced. I went to his house and received lavish satisfaction. After a few nights of pleasure I took him home to meet my son” (117).
Women’s concern is only with chattering and fulfilling physical satisfaction. She accepts that her conversation with the man is only shouting, “After the most commonplace greetings, our conversations were mostly limited to my shouting in his bedroom and his grunts at my dining-room table” (118). She does not involve herself in planning and making things better but involves fulfilling the hunger for flesh.
Loneliness and indulging the entire life in household activities is another characteristic that society binds women with. Angelou asserts, “I was lonely and I would make a good wife. I could cook, clean house and I had never been unfaithful, even to a boyfriend” (120). The women’s only responsibility in the society is to do household activities and remain lonely and silent waiting for her husband. She mentions that she could do cooking cleaning and washing. She also assumes that she has to be faithful to patriarchy. She also knows that she could not do intellectual works or she cannot practice with reason because she lacks knowledge, virtue and truth.
In a patriarchal society women are supposed to be caring for their physical beauty. They should maintain their beauty by using different cosmetics: “I would let my hair grow out and get it straightened and wear pretty hats with flowers and gloves and look like a nice colored woman from San Francisco” (120). Here she wants to make her hair grow long and straightened. She wants to wear pretty hat with flowers and gloves. She wants to be a nice colored woman. Her concern is only with maintaining her beauty so that other men will look at her. She wants to be attractive so that her husband will praise her beauty.
Time and again women cannot let themselves get rid of sexual pleasure. They are more emotional than males so that they think each and every time about having sex and enjoying male’s body: “My first reaction was to wish I could be the white cloth in his dark hand touching his forehead, digging softly in the corners of his lips. Intelligence always had a pornographic influence on me” (127). She frankly accepts that she is guided by pleasure principle. She wishes to be in the lap of man touching his forehead. Since she is guided by emotion she could not utilize her intelligence properly and says that intelligence always had a pornographic influence on her.
When women find a handsome man, she no longer wants to stay with previous one. In that sense women are much opportunistic. Angelou accepts that being opportunistic she gets trapped in jeopardy “I refused Make’s daily invitations to lunch and declined Thomas’s offer to visit his apartment. Confusion had me spread-eagled. I couldn’t run nor could I dodge” (136). She could not make decisions to go to Make’s daily invitations nor to the bail bondsman. She cannot take the right decision in the right time.
Vus is attracted with the beauty of Angelou and wants to celebrate her physical beauty. For that he praises her beauty and pretends as if his body and spirit is waiting for her. He says, “My desire for you is total, Miss Angelou, I want your mind, and spirit and your body” (140). He wants Angelou to be in his lap. He also wants to have physical relation with her. So, in a persuasive tone, he tells Angelou that he wants her mind, spirit and body.
The patriarchal norms, values and systems teach women to remain silent when men are talking. Angelou writes, “Let men talk to men. It was better for a woman, even a mother, to stand back, keep quiet and let the men work out their mannish problems” (150). It is the man who talks in mass, who solves the problems but women but keep quiet and stand back. Women are restricted to take part in the violence or talk with men.
Since women’s concern is with managing the beauty, they judge another woman with her appearances:
A startlingly beautiful woman spoke to me. Her skin was blue-black and smooth as glass. She had brushed her hair severely, and it lay in tiny ripples back from a clean, shining forehead. Her long eyes were lifted above high cheekbones and her lips formed themselves in a large black bow. (158)
Women’s concern is only on the observation of physical beauty. They do not seek the intellectual beauty or intellectual clarity in women. They do not want themselves to be bold or intellectual rather try to make themselves attractive so that men will pay their attentions.
It is women that find themselves worthless. Being dissatisfied with their own deeds they regret on what they do:
What are we here for? Why are African women sitting eating, trying to act cute while African men are discussing serious questions and African children are starving? Have we come to London just to convenience our husbands? Have we been brought here only as portable pussy? (159)
Women question on their own identity. They cannot get answers from themselves. They do not find their identity, dignity and pride in the male-governed society. They stay muted eating and trying to act cute so that they can make their husbands happy. Women are also incapable of taking intellectual and serious questions whereas men are doing. They find themselves very mean as they find themselves as portable pussy for their husband. It is patriarchal society that denies women to involve in intellectual talking; they are ought to enjoyed by males.
Women are physically bruised in patriarchal society since all the rights are in male. One of the women deplores her pain showing her scar:
She picked at the cloth of her dress, caught in and dragged it above her knees. I have been jailed and beaten. Look, my sisters. Because I would not tell the whereabouts of my friends, they also shot me. She wore a garter belt and the white elastic straps on her left leg evenly divided a deep-gouged scar as slick and black as wet pavement. (159-60)
Most of the time women are victimized by men. Women ought to follow the direction that patriarchy shows. If a woman denies the rules and regulations of patriarchal society, she is tortured and even sometimes jailed and beaten. The physical and psychological tortures are given to women. Since all the rights are in the hands of males, women are obliged to live under domination in the society.
In a patriarchal society women’s identity is in crisis. They are not taken as citizens and behaved like slaves:
Yoked like an ox, I have plowed your land. And ain’t I a woman? With axes and hatches, I have cut your forests and ain’t I a woman? I gave birth to thirteen children and you have sold them away from me to be the property of strangers and to labor in strange lands. Ain’t I a woman? I have suckled your babes at this breast. Here she put her large hands on her bodice. (162-63)
Supporting the argument Richard Bellamy and Andrew Mason write “women are part of this home world they become, like slaves, the unacknowledged preconditions of the male public world of autonomous individuals” (136) In society women contribute for the production of goods and materials but their identity and dignity is not respected. Women’s works like plowing a land cutting forest and child bearing are taken as unimportant. Not only that women give birth to children which masters sell to other strangers. Women are separated from their children too. They are obliged to love their children. Though women indulge herself in doing good but the patriarchy never praises her work.
Indulging in the household activities women cannot participate in conversations. Angelou shows her dissatisfaction for not having been participated in interesting conversations between Vus and Guy:
I tried to overhear their interesting conversations, but generally I was too busy with household chores to take the time. It seemed to me that I washed, scrubbed, mopped, dusted and waxed thoroughly every other day. Vus was particular. He checked on my progress. Sometimes he would pull the sofa away from the wall to see if possibly I had missed a layer of dust. If he found his suspicions confirmed, his response could wither me. He would drop his eyes and shake his head, his face saddened with disappointment. (166)
Angelou works faithfully thinking that she is a member of family but Vus finds her work not good. His only task is to find her fault. Angelou on the one hand tries to make Vus happy and her house clean. She is busy from early morning to late night in the household chores whereas Vus’s task is to inspect her progress. He inspects whether the room is clean properly or not. Instead of helping Angelou to clean the house Vus shows his masterly behaviour with Angelou and if he finds any layer of dust he becomes sad with disappointment. She finds that it is difficult to manage home and satisfy her man: “I wanted to be a wife and to create a beautiful home to make my man happy, but there was more to life than being a diligent maid with a permanent pussy” (168).
Women’s concern is generally on making themselves beautiful. Here, women take hair as the part of their glory. It is because they want to make hair look good and dye with color if their husband becomes happy. She writes, “Hair is a part of woman’s glory. She ought to wear it any way she wants to. You don’t get out of one trick bag by jumping into another. I wear my hair like this because I like it and Max likes it. But I’d dye it green if I thought it would look better” (170). Women are most often busy with making themselves beautiful not intellectually but physically. She also notes that daughters as well as sons are sold by slave-owners or masters. The mother is separated from their son and daughters so as to take benefit from women. She portrays a situation in which a father sells his own son and white sisters put black sisters on coffins for a price, “Slave-owning fathers had sold black sons and daughters. White sisters had put their black sisters in slave coffins for a price” (173).
It is the blacks who are treated like animals and sold in the market. The buying and selling of blacks is no mother than racial injustice that whites have laden. There is no option for a black than to be sold and work according to the instruction of white master. Angelou further writes that nothing is done in the history than to sell Africans into slavery:
One woman, a fashion model, hinted that my husband and Rosa’s diplomat boyfriend made us partial to the African cause. Abbey said that was a stupid attitude, and what happens in African affects every black American. One woman said the only thing Africans had really done for us was to sell our ancestors into slavery. (174)
It is the black African-Americans’ attempt to make blacks free from slavery. They challenged white authority but nothing happened. The blacks failed to protect their ancestors to be sold in slave market. Angelou comes with the voice of protest so as to make revolt against such exploitation and domination. For that, Angelou wants all the blacks to be united. She writes, “Never allow yourself to be cut off from the people. Predators use the separation tactic with great success. If you’re going to do something radical go to the masses. Let them know who you are. That is your only hope of protection” (175).
It is the mass that has power to challenge the white authority. By knowing the power of mass Angelou wants to unite blacks so that the strength of blacks will be bold and whites will no more prey blacks taking chance of separation between blacks and blacks. She also suggests that if a black wants to do something, he must go to the mass and introduce himself and that is the only hope remained for black to get protected from whites.
In contrary to the black women Angelou sees white women getting busy in drinking and spending relaxed life, eating sweet rolls, smiling and flirting. She tries to show how racial discrimination obliged black women to stay under constraints. She writes:
CAWH women were busy, drinking coffee, laying the veils in one box, talking, putting the arm bands in another box, eating sweet rolls a teacher had brought, smiling and flirting with Max, who walked around us like a handsome pasha in a busy harem. We left for the elevators, carrying the boxes, and jumpy with excitement. (181)
When blacks became aware of their right and liberty through revolution, they involved themselves in strike. She points that seeing such revolt of blacks she becomes surprised. She asserts:
‘What the hell is going on here?’ The cabbie’s alarm matched our own. People stood packed together on the side-walk and spilled out into the street. Placards stating FREEDOM NOW, BACK TO AFRICA, AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS, ONE MAN, ONE VOTE waved on sticks above the crowd. (182)
The raising consciousness of the blacks burst into revolt. First, the blacks come with the placards with the slogans of ‘Freedom Now, back to Africa, Africa for the Africans, one man one vote’ etc. waving above the crowd. The Africans who were denied of their right of vote, basic rights of job, food, shelter and safety, come with the protesting voice for freedom. The voice of blacks became so strong that they are ready to sacrifice their life than to be a slave under the command of white. She asserts, “And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave [. . .]” (188). It is the consciousness of blacks that came after they joined mass, after they realized that they were not given proper rights, liberty and happiness and start revolting against the brutality of the white masters. They are becoming confident that one day the liberation will be provided to them. In such revolution Angelou wants black to break the rules laden upon them. She asserts:
I had to make a show of confidence. I looked into the officer’s face and said, ‘Permit? If we left it to you whites we’d be in the same shape as our folks in South Africa. We’d have to have a permit to breathe.’ A man standing by my side added, ‘Naw. We ain’t got no damn permit. So you better pull out your pistols and start shooting. Shoot us down now, ’cause we ain’t moving.’ (190)
Angelou shows how blacks became confident and ready to die for freedom. The blacks have not been permitted in certain areas. The extract shows how their confidence became strong. The determination of black is shown as “you better pull out your pistols and start shooting. Shoot us down now, ’cause we ain’t moving”. The determination of the black makes them strong so that they do not surrender before white officer rather tell him to shoot if he can.
In the same way, the blacks were victimized and not provided proper time even to see a play. Angelou comes with the proposition to perform play so that blacks will be conscious of white domination. She asserts:
It was important that our people see the play. Every black in the United States should see it. Furthermore, as a black woman married to a South African and raising a black boy, I should damn well understand the play before I started laughing at it. And as for ridiculing the white men, at least they were going to put the play on, and all I could do was laugh at them. I ought to have better sense. (203)
Angelou evokes the sense of revolt by showing the black’s play performed in the theatre. She says that at least for ridiculing the white men, the play should be put on the performance. It is assumed to be the good way of making whites harassed, frustrated and ridiculed so that blacks could laugh at them. Angelou want to reverse the roles. She says that earlier whites used to make fun of blacks but she by showing black’s drama on theatre wants to make fun of whites.
On the one hand Angelou protests against the domination and exploitation of whites, but on the other she gives her body and loyalty including all rights to her life and stays under control of Vus. Angelou tries to be feminist by protesting against the domination and exploitation. Maria Mies also supports that to be a feminist is to reject the norms of patriarchal society. She asserts, “feminists are those who dare to break the conspiracy of silence about the oppressive, unequal man-women relationship and who want to change it”(6). Mies talks in favour of women’s autonomy, and views that feminists are against oppressive male ideology and unequal treatment to women which imposed upon them to be silent.
This contradiction between her protest and surrender shows that women get victimized in one or another way. She asserts, “When I gave Vus my body and loyalty I hadn’t included all the rights to my life. I felt no loyalty to The Blacks, since it had not earned my approval, yet I chafed under Vus’s attitude of total control. I said nothing” (206).
Angelou cannot feel freedom in her life since society is guided by patriarchal norms, values and systems and she has to follow them. Actually patriarchal norms and values are not in favour of women’s right and freedom rather they are made to dominate them.
We looked out at the pale faces, no longer actors playing roles written by a Frenchman thousands of miles distant. We were courageous black people, looking directly into enemy eyes. Our impudence further excited the audience. Loud applause continued long after we left the stage. (216)
Angelou draws the idea that before their negro plays, there used to be performed plays written by French. She assures the blacks power by saying that “we are courageous black people, looking directly into enemy eyes”. In fact, the performers on the play were blacks and the majority of the audiences were also black which heightens the courage of Angelou too. She becomes excited seeing such performance and black audiences.
Angelou finds that Vus is not loyal to her because once she finds lipstick smudge in his shirt which is not her. She also notices that the perfume is unknown to her, “The lipstick smudge was not mine, nor did the perfume come from my bottles. [. . .] Vus’s clothes were stained with the evidence of other women’s make-up I had to face the possibility” (220).
Angelou asks Vus about the lipstick and perfume that is not her. She also tells Vus that she can be hurt but not insulted in front of other friends. She asserts:
Vus, if you fell in love with Abbey, or Rosa or Paule, I could understand. I would be hurt but not insulted. They are women who would not intend to hurt me, but love is like a virus. It can happen to anybody at any time. But if you chippie on me, you could get hurt, and I mean seriously. (221)
Angelou wants to know about the love affair of Vus with some other women except her. She also says that love is like a virus and Abbey, Rosa or Paule are not ones who intend to hurt her. She says that love can happen to anybody at any time. She also gives threatening to Vus. But all of a sudden she forgets the follies and being emotional she lays in Vus’s chest rubbing his large round thigh.
It is the presupposition that a male should be taught by male whereas woman cannot teach males. Angelou realizes such a feeling of inferiority while Vus teaches her son, Guy. She asserts:
Now Vus was teaching him to be an African male, and he was an apt student. Ambiguity stretched me like elastic. I yearned for our old closeness, and his dependence, but I knew he needed a father, a male image, a man in his life. I had been raised in a fatherless home, so I didn’t even know what fathers talked about to their daughters, and surely I had no inkling of what they taught their sons. (223)
Angelou regards Vus as a good teacher of Guy which makes distinction between the female teacher and the male. In her understanding, she is unable to teach aptly to Vus. She also points that a male needs another male figure to learn about the masculinity. She also assimilates that she was reared up without father or she could not meet her father which symbolizes how the Africans were suppressed by whites at the time of slavery. The fear of male figure haunts the woman as Angelou gets haunted. She tries to understand the need of Vus:
I knew that Vus didn’t approve of public displays of emotion, so I hugged him quickly and went to change into street clothes.
I couldn’t hold my relief. In the taxi I rubbed his large round thigh, and put my head on his chest, breathing in his living scent. ‘You are loving me tonight’. He chuckled and the sound rumbled sweetly in my ear. (226)
The incapability to express her emotion shows that she is lack courageous even to hug her own husband and kiss him. It is also the indication of emotional behaviour of woman that she rubs Vus’s thigh in taxi because she was guided by emotionality rather than rationality. Angelou’s confession of her emotionality is supportive that women are guided by emotion not by reason. Her expression also suggests that she wants to be loved by male figure as she says, “You are loving me tonight”. Though Angelou is always loved by Vus, she could not be satisfied that is why becomes more emotional than ever before while she rubs the large round thigh of Vus.
The strategy of the whites to control the Black freedom fighter is important since it comes as an obstacle on the way to freedom of blacks. The phone call that came from South African police makes freedom fighters wives frighten. As Angelou asserts the voice of Vus “That was someone from the South African police. They do that sort of thing. Telephone the wives of freedom fighters and tell them their husbands or their children have been killed” (226).
Vus assures that South African Police has a strategy to phone and tell the freedom fighter’s wives bad news. He also tells her that they give message like their husbands or children have been killed. As Vus makes Angelou conscious of such fake phone calls, the next time Angelou becomes conscious and replies with harsh tone giving bitter reply. She asserts:
‘Maya Make? Do you know your husband is dead?’ The voice was different but the accent was the same. ‘His throat has been cut.’ I slammed down the telephone, and a second later I picked it up and screamed obscenities over the buzz of the dial tone. ‘You’re a lying dog. You racist, Apartheid-loving, baby-killing son of a bitch.’ (227)
Angelou becomes so furious when she hears the same message ‘your husband is dead’ and with scorn condemns the caller as racist, apartheid-loving and baby-killing son of a bitch. Angelou becomes violent in her expression because she knew the strategy of giving threats and fake messages to the freedom fighter’s wives so as to make them weak. The next time when she is chocked she is rescued by Vus in the sense that he makes her forget her pain. She writes, “Vus took my shoulders in his hands and pressed his thumbs into the soft muscles at the joint of my arms. The pain made me forget about Sidney Bernstein, Ethel Ayler, the music and The Blacks. I stopped crying and he released me” (232).
In patriarchal society women are supposed to be assisted by males in each and every sorrow and pain. It is her husband Vus who assists her to forget her pain. The act of taking her shoulders in his hands and pressing his thumbs into the soft muscles at her arms suggests that she is lovingly patted and consoled by him which makes her released from pain which is suggested by ‘I stopped crying and he released me’. It is also evident that Angelou cannot control her emotions and weeps, cries and laments if something wrong happens to her. She cannot control her emotions and sentiments since she is guided by emotions rather than intellect or reason. The patriarchal society assumes that women no longer can control their emotions when they are trapped in some problem.
In a society women cannot protect their bodies. They are ought to be protected by males; they are ought to be controlled by males. Woman is also considered as foolish, moron, idiot and witch. Patriarchal society assigns such names to a woman since she lacks reason. Lois Tyson comments on how patriarchy defines women. According to her, sometimes patriarchy takes woman as ‘good’ and sometimes ‘bad’. We can see the image of ‘good girl’ and ‘bad girl’ in Lois Tyson’s word as such:
According to a patriarchal ideology, ‘bad girls’ violate patriarchal norms in some way; they are sexually forward in appearance or behaviour, or they have multiple sexual partners. The ‘good girl’ is rewarded for her ‘good’ behaviour by being placed on a pedestal by patriarchal culture. She is attributed all the virtues associated with patriarchal feminity and demosticity; she is modest, unassuming, self sacrificing, and nurturing. She has no needs of her own, for she is completely satisfied by serving her family. (89)
The ‘good girls’ obey the patriarchal norms whereas ‘bad girls’ violate it. The good girl has to remain uninterested in sexual activity. Except for the purpose of legitimate procreation, because it is believed in patriarchy unnatural for women to have sexual desire. The ‘good woman’ is expected to find sex frightening or disgusting. She does not want her own self autonomy in the society. She only knows about the traditional rules. But the ‘bad women’ who are power seeking always want newness in the society. They do not limit themselves within the boundary which is drawn by the patriarchy. They have strong feminist idea and they are hard and bold enough that they can do what male. So, they want their self autonomy.
The behaviour of the Angelou in party makes her bad girl. The treatment of patriarchy to the bad girls is really dominating one. The following extract shows women’s picture in Angelou’s novel as bad one:
Vus’s breath came harder and his sentences were short explosions. ‘Stop! Foolish woman! Moron ! Idiot!’ I might be all those things or none, but he wasn’t going to catch me. I began to sprint. I ran around the sofas, making guests draw their legs out of the way. Vus was lumbering less than a foot behind me. A desk clerk’s face suddenly appeared at my side, anxious and gulping. We could have been two underwater swimmers in a clear pool. With just a little energy, I quickly outdistanced him. Vus shouted, ‘Don’t touch her. She’s my wife.’ He stressed the possessive. (242)
When Angelou runs Vus tries to stop her since he is guided by reason and thinks that running like the way Angelou ran is not normal behaviour. Vus becomes furious to Angelou seeing her foolish act and calls her as ‘Stop ! Foolish woman ! Moron ! Idiot!’. She began to sprint and runs around sofas making guests draw their legs out of the way. Though Angelou tries to be free but still she is possessed by Vus that is why no one dares to stop her, no one touches her because she is wife of someone. Vus also makes other people aware that she is his wife and not to dare touch her. We see possession of man to a woman. She is known not by her identity but by Vus’ identity. As Vus calls, ‘She is my wife’ not that she is ‘Maya Angelou’.
Angelou also considers her crime unforgivable. She becomes submissive to Vus and realizes her guilt for humiliating him. She asserts that she has no dignity nor the other blacks have:
My actions were unforgivable. I had shown all those white folks that black people had no dignity. I had embarrassed my husband, who was risking his life for our people. He had called me an idiot and he was right. Rosa kept laughing, but for me there was nothing funny anymore. (243)
Angelou defines her act as an unforgivable. She finds it is a great mistake of her. She also assimilates that she has revealed the black folk which reveals that black people lack dignity. She embarrasses her husband who has been risking his life for the life and liberty of blacks. For Angelou it is only a matter of fun but Vus gets humiliated. She confirms with herself that she has done mistake and Vus was right when he was calling her an idiot.
The feeling of inferiority is another characteristic that Angelou possess. She defines herself as a housewife who makes no money and totally unproductive. It is hegemonic power of patriarchy that enslaves women. Simone de Beauvoir in this context writes; “in sexuality and maternity women as subject can claim autonomy; but to be a ‘true woman’ she must accept herself as the other” (1000).
In the same way as Beauvoir claims, Angelou remains inactive and defeated by the patriarchal norms. She recognizes herself as ‘other’ as described by Beauvoir. She writes, “I had played the cared-for housewife, who made no money. I hadn’t asked for the position, but had accepted the role marriage had forced upon me. I convinced myself that I was without blame, and the total responsibility of how and where Guy and I lived lay in Vus’s lap. (244)
Angelou confirms herself as a housewife who is totally ignorant about the outside world. She makes no money and has inferior position in her house. She inferiorizes herself as a mere servant of Vus.
While her husband was on a long trip she could not manage herself with her loneliness. She is time and again haunted by the absence of Vus. It is patriarchy that makes women like parasite who could not live alone and independently. Her loneliness is revealed as, “Her face was sad and her voice trembled as she put fresh ice and Scotch in our glasses. Her husband was away on a long trip and she was finding it hard to manage her loneliness” (249). Angelou finds it hard to manage her mind and her body because she is haunted by the body of Vus because she needs much bodily pleasure. She also reveals that she is sad and her voice trembled with fear. She used to feel protected when Vus was with her since he is no longer with her and on a long trip she feels unsecured.
In the patriarchal society the duty of a man is to provide the necessary things to his family members whereas women are supposed to be working in the kitchen. They have to say silent but praise the task of their husbands. Vus tries to prove his loyalty as:
‘I have tried to make a beautiful house for you, even to the pint of ignoring my own work. Yes, I’ve postponed important PAC affairs to decorate this apartment, and you call it crap?’ He turned and walked through th door. Guy shook his head, disgusted with my lack of gratitude and grace, and followed Vus out of the kitchen. Their silent departure succeeded in humbling me. Vus was a generous man. Indeed, I had only seen that kind of furniture in slick magazine advertisements, or in the homes of white movie stars. My husband was lifting me and my son into a rarified atmosphere, and instead of thanking him for the elevation, I had been sour and unappreciative. (255)
Angelou finds her husband Vus a generous person. She admires his work put pretends to be dissatisfied with such household arrangement. So, Vus becomes furious and says that he has done everything for the house and even postponed his important meetings. He tries to prove himself as a responsible and dedicated husband. Angelou also thinks that Vus is uplifting their standard. At last Angelou assimilates herself and regrets for being unappreciative.
Vus also thinks that Angelou can prove her caliber by cooking different foods and serving the guests properly. He admires her cooking as he says that she cooks famous Afro-American food:
‘Are you free this evening? Come over. My wife will cook her famous Afro-American food. We’ll drink and eat. Come.’ The invitation would be repeated several times before he would ask if I had something I could prepare in a hurry. Invitees would troop into the apartment, eat and drink copiously, talk loudly with each other and leave. (260)
Vus wants to show his friends how loyal and good is his wife in cooking. He invites every friend in the evening and they drink and eat. The repetition of the invitation for several times shows that Vus wants really to show his wife’s skill of cooking not the intellect. On the other hand, Angelou stays cooking and serving the guests as well as Vus. Her only duty is to do whatever Vus wants. Actually, in the male dominated society, it is the law to which women are the subjects.
Vus interrogates with Angelou whether she is a man deciding alone without his consent. Vus finds Angelou wrong when she decides to work. Supporting the argument that interrogating women’s identity is prevalent in male-dominated society, she says in The Black Scholar as:
The work still has to be done on the artist’s psyche, because he has to keep dealing with the issue that every artist, from the beginning of time, has had to deal with, and that is, ‘Am I an artist?’ That public display of ego on the part of artists, 99 times out of 100 only tells of the doubt he has in private, especially when one has no precedent in one’s personal family history. (45)
Angelou again regrets even though she lives in the pretty living room. She regrets for having a job for which she was disqualified. Having angry husband is another problem for her. She cannot make Vus happy and satisfied. Angelou finds hard to manage her personal family relationships. On the other hand, Vus also does not want to be inferior before any woman so, there comes the problem in relationship between them.
Vus shows his dissatisfaction with Angelou not only in mutual understanding but also in physical gratification. He complains:
A man requires a certain amount of sexual gratification. Much more than a woman needs, wants or understands.
That’s a lie, Vus. You’re not a woman, how do you know what I need?[. . .] As an African man, in my society, I have the right to marry more than one woman. (293)
Being dissatisfied with Angelou in sexual pleasure, he says that a man needs more amount of sexual gratification than a woman needs. So he claims that he has a right to marry another woman. In addition, he says that sex is only important as long as it lasts. Sex for him is not the factor which holds a family together. In this context, Vus wants to silence Angelou. Carol Gilligan (1982) in his text, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development, posits how male wants to silence their female counterparts; “From the cultural silences imposed upon adolescent girls, women have kept and still keep silent about sexual harassment or rape” (116). So the need to continue to struggle against the silencing effects of dominant constructions of gender, race, class and sexuality is apparent.
Angelou feels totally displaced. She decides once again to leave and displaced from the grip of Vus. Supporting the argument Joe Weixlmann writes
Maya Angelou’s The Heart of a Woman. The employment of such fictional techniques as dialogue, historical references that extend beyond Angelou’s life, anecdotes, and incidents drawn from black folk literature, Neubauer feels, renders Angelou’s life story “fully realistic and convincing, and [. . .] supplement[s] the [book’s] personals cope with the larger historical context”. Through these and related techniques, Angelou overcomes the geographical and intra familial distance and displacement that characterize the book’s subject matter. (396)
It is her courage that drives her towards another direction leaving Vus alone. She becomes true seeker of the female identity, dignity, and freedom of choice. Katering Tomaseuski describes a brilliant act of women in present day feminism as: “A struggle for achievement of women’s equality, dignity and freedom of choice to control our lives and bodies within outside the home” (34). As described of Tomaseuski, Angelou also longs for equality, dignity and freedom. So that, she kicks the tricks of Vus and relieves herself from the chain of patriarchy.
After the conversations were over Angelou thinks about her life and Guy’s career, she decides to leave Vus. She leaves for Ghana so that her son Guy could study more easily. When she reaches Ghana, Guy is caught in a accident and taken to the Korle Bu hospital. It took for months for Guy to be recovered. Angelou finds a job in University of Ghana as administrative assistant. When Guy is recovered, he lives alone and Angelou also lives alone. Guy is admitted to the University of Ghana. At last, Angelou becomes able to eat the whole breast of a roast chicken by herself. As she says, “At last, I’ll be able to eat the whole breast of a roast chicken by myself” (324). Angelou, towards the end of the novel decides that she can manage her life by herself. Being enlightened of her rights, she wants her rights not to be snatched by Vus. Thus, she leaves Vus and stays with Guy. In this context, Olsen in Silences (1978) has expressed an emancipatory space for women “to empower women both to find their own creative and critical voices and to explore new or formerly taboo subjects” (qtd. in Hedges and Fishkin 6). Olsen assists on empowering women from the criticality and creativity.
Thus the whole novel is concerned with the women’s suffering in a patriarchal society. In patriarchal society woman is considered as a mere playing thing or an object of entertainment. She is defined as an idiot, emotional, dependent, weak and incapable of anything. Angelou with the hope of uniting blacks tries to break the boundaries of patriarchy.
Revolt of Women in The Heart of a Woman
The Heart of a Woman deals with the revolutionary voices of women. Angelou guides her action towards revolution from the very beginning to its end. In her revolt she comes against patriarchal as well as racial injustices prevalent in the then society of America. Her revolt targets the racial discrimination and male supremacy. Her revolt is mainly for the women’s right, liberty, freedom and self. By presenting the pangs of women, Angelou speaks against the males especially the trend of assuming women as non-rational, emotional and less intellectual. The entire novel comes in opposition to such beliefs, systems and chains which had been trapping women from long ago.
The trend of taking help from the males is broken in the novel in the sense that Angelou succeeds to stay alone. The treatment of patriarchy to the woman as the child bearing machines has been vandalized by her act. She also questions that males claim themselves to be guided by reason but in reality they are more vagrant than females. She also claims that the only concern of male is to have bodily pleasure from a woman whereas a woman is guided by perfection or pure love. She reveals the fact with Vus. For a male, the act of sexuality is only important as long as it lasts. After the seeds are spent, a woman cannot be useful for him. By revealing such fact spoken by Vus, Angelou tries to question the standard of a man. She reveals that males are more opportunistic than females. The traditional notion of interpreting woman has been totally cracked.
In her revelation, she comes violent to complain how men reveal their beasty nature and figure at the same time. She reveals that patriarchy considers woman as a temporarily pleasure giving good. She explores the evil character of Vus so as to show that patriarchy expects woman to be loyal to their husbands whereas they themselves claim they have right to marry more than one woman. It suggests that marring more than one woman is the vile conduct of male.
Breaking the traditional notion of rationality that man possess, Angelou proves her argument that males are more irrational than females. A female can be satisfied with a single male whereas a male cannot make himself satisfied. She describes a male as unsatisfied creature. Her journey of revolt is further accelerated by working as an active member of SCLC. Angelou builds her confidence that she is not a weak rather than bold. She accomplishes the intellectual works and does good leadership. Revolting against the patriarchal assumption of assigning irrationality to woman, Angelou, Angelou succeeds in writing the play and proves herself as an intellectual person. Though her writing gets bitter criticism, she does not stop writing.
Towards the end of the novel, Angelou becomes totally aware of the misdeeds of patriarchy to her. Her self-awakened mind once again drives her towards her goal and she divorces Vus. Not only that, she finds her identity, dignity, pride and freedom in staying alone and threatens to hurt Vus. Angelou leaves Vus and goes to Ghana. She finds a job in University of Ghana. At last, Angelou finds able to stand on her own. Through her devotion on her work, she explores the evil deeds of patriarchy, challenges them and gets self-awakened. Angelou’s revolt against patriarchy, racial discrimination and social injustice proves her as a milestone in the study of women and women rights.
Aldan, Daisy. “The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou.” World Literature Today 56.4 (Autumn, 1982): 692-97.
Angelou, Maya. The Heart of a Woman. New York: Bantom Books, 1981.
Ballamy, Richard and Andrew Mason. Political Concepts. New York: Manchester University Press, 2003.
Beauvoir, Simone de. “The Second Sex.” Critical Theory since Plato. Hazard Adams. 993-1000.
Brush, Paula Stewart. “Problematizing the Race Consciousness of Women of Color.” Signs 27.1 (Autumn, 2001): 171-198.
Gilbert M. Sandra and Susan Gubar. “Infection in the Sentence. “Hazard Adams. 1160-1775.
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 1982.
Hook, Bell. Ain’t I A Woman: Black and Feminism. Boston: South End Press, 1981.
Hurston, Zora Nale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1937.
Miles, Maria. Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in International Division of Labour. London: Zed Books, 1986.
Mill, J.S. “What is Poetry.” Critical Theory Since Plato. Hazard Adams. 550-556.
Moi, Toril. Sexual/ Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory. New York: Methuem, 1985.
Neubauer, C.E. “Displacement and Autobiographical Style in Maya Angelou’s the Heart of a Woman.” Black American Literature Forum 17.3 (Autumn, 1983): 123-129.
Olsen, Tille. Silences. New York: Dilacerate Publishers, 1978.
Ruth, Sheila. Issues in Feminism: A First Course in Women’s Studies. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1980.
Smith, Sidion Ann. “The Song of a Caged Bird: Maya Angelou’s Quest after Self-acceptance.” The Southern Humanities Review (Fall 1973): 365-75.
Song, Sarah. Justice, Gender and the Politics of Multiculturalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Tomasevski, Katering. “Introduction: Why ‘Women and Human Rights?” Women and Human Rights. London: Zed Books, 1995. 30-34.
Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. New York: Gorland Publishing, 1999.