Maya Angelou is a celebrated author and civil rights activist. Her works have reached a wide audience. Her autobiographical prose is her most well-known work, but her poetry changed the landscape of feminist writing. She introduced the idea of celebrating self-definition, selfhood, and the achievement of freedom and agency.

Woman Work is a poem by her that describes the life and work of a woman. It compares it to a slave’s. Although the idea is largely hidden in the majority of the poem, it becomes very obvious when she mentions picking cotton. The poem is a collection of lists with a slow pace that reads as a list, a sign of the monotonous life of a woman. To speed up the pace of the poem, the rhyme scheme isn’t always consistent. The poem’s rhythm is representative for a woman’s life. The idea of this is particularly evident in the lines that follow.

The poet describes the life of an ordinary woman in these lines. It’s almost as if someone is reading the poem aloud. The woman’s duties include domestic chores like shopping for food and tending to the children. She also does slave work, such as picking cotton. This illustrates how women, especially black women, had to live as marginalized people.

When the part is about picking cotton, it brings up the idea that there was double colonization. African women were discriminated based on race and gender. They were therefore pushed to society’s fringes, without any rights or agency that others from other demographics might have.

The poem’s pace slows in the next stanza. In the lines that follow, a feeling of relief is conveyed.

Shine on, sunshine. Rain on me.

Storm, blow Me from HereWith Your Furious WindLet Me Float Across the Sky’Til I Can Rest Again.

Let me fall gently, snowflakes.

Sun, rains and curving skies

Finally, the speaker seems to have found some peace. What’s most remarkable is the fact that nature seems to be her only refuge. Nature provides her with a way out of a life that has condemned her to subservience to humankind. This poem highlights the binary nature/humankind theme. The speaker cannot find any solace except in the presence of nature.

Many inferences can also be drawn from the poem. From the opening lines, it is clear that the poet intends to draw a parallel between a woman’s life and that of a slave. Both have suffered marginalization. We often forget to consider the intersection of racial and gender-based prejudices. The poet tries to show the realities of living in a world where one is marginalized for both gender and race. This woman seems to be working at an inexorable pace and can’t seem to escape domestic chores. She is bound to patriarchy’s dogmas. She has no other life than the domestic one.

The poem’s speaker, however, is a woman who can see no escape to nature. After she finishes her work, she is able find some solace in nature.

The poet goes beyond gynocentric concerns to find the fine line between different types. This can also be read as a strong condemnation to all types of prejudice. This poem reflects on the brutal reality of living as an Other.

The Idea Of Selfhood In Maya Angelou’s Woman Work


I am a 34-year-old educational blogger and student. I enjoy writing about education and sharing my insights and experiences with others. I hope to use this blog as a way to share my knowledge and help others learn more about the subjects that interest me.

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