Maya Angelou’s “Graduation” is a powerful poem that speaks to the experience of black people in America. Through her words, we see the strength and resilience of the black community in the face of adversity. We also see the hope that comes with graduation, as Maya Angelou looks to the future with optimism. This poem is a beautiful tribute to the strength and determination of black people everywhere.
In the novel The Women in the House, Suzanne Young captures this theme with literary devices such as metaphor and personification. Maya Angelou’s chapter “Graduation” from her autobiography I Know Where the Caged Bird Sings features intriguing symbols and literary tricks that bring the words on paper to life. Several symbols and literary techniques are used in this section to illustrate suffering caused by racism and segregation for African Americans.
Maya Angelou writes about her graduation in eighth grade from Lafayette County Training School in Arkansas. It was a time of great success and happiness, but also a time of disappointment and sorrow. Maya graduates as the class valedictorian, but is not allowed to speak at her own graduation because she is black. This is just one example of the racism that African Americans faced during this time period. Maya uses symbols and literary devices to show the reader the harsh reality of being an African American during the early twentieth century.
One symbol Maya uses throughout “Graduation” is the caged bird. The caged bird is a metaphor for African Americans who are trapped by their skin color. They are not free to do what they want or be who they want to be because of the color of their skin. Maya uses this symbol to show how African Americans are treated differently than white people. They are not given the same opportunities or rights, and are often looked down upon because of the color of their skin.
Another symbol Maya uses is the graduation gown. The graduation gown is a symbol of hope and opportunity. It represents the fact that Maya has graduated from eighth grade and is one step closer to her goal of becoming a doctor. However, the graduation gown also represents the segregation between black and white people. Maya is not allowed to wear her graduation gown during the ceremony because she is black. Instead, she has to wear a plain white dress. This shows how even though Maya has accomplished something great, she is still not seen as equal to her white classmates.
Maya also uses several literary devices to enhance the meaning of her words. She uses repetition to emphasize the importance of graduation. Maya says, “Graduation day was important because…” and goes on to list all the reasons why graduation was so important to her and her classmates. By repeating the word “graduation,” Maya shows how this one event was a big deal for everyone involved.
She also uses imagery to paint a picture in the reader’s mind of what it was like to be at the graduation ceremony. Maya describes the “white satin gowns” that the girls were wearing and how the “sun set like a great bronze fireball behind the trees.” This allows the reader to feel as if they are there at the ceremony, witnessing Maya’s graduation firsthand.
In addition, the ideas of pride in culture and unity connected through Marguerite Johnson’s graduation are rounded out by several literary devices and symbols. Between different races, numerous symbols and literary techniques depict instances of oppression and division. The language itself is also a symbol for racism when contrasted with the words used to reject it: “No worries!” This phrase may be interpreted in multiple ways.
The white American’s ignorance and lack of acknowledgement of the African American culture is shown through Maya’s experience with Mrs. Bertha Flowers. Maya goes to Mrs. Flowers for help with her graduation speech, and Mrs. Flowers introduces Maya to books that she had not been exposed to before. The books allowed Maya to view the world from a different perspective and understand that there was more to life than what she was used to seeing in her small town (“Graduation” 8).
This act of kindness from Mrs. Flowers reveals the contrast in cultures between the African Americans and the white Americans. While Mrs. Flowers was open-minded and willing to help Maya learn about her culture, the white Americans in Maya’s town were close-minded and not willing to acknowledge the African American culture. Maya’s experience with Mrs. Flowers shows the literary device of contrast, which is used to reveal the ignorance of the white Americans.
Furthermore, Maya’s graduation ceremony is another example of the segregation between the African Americans and the white Americans. During Maya’s graduation, she is not allowed to walk with her white classmates because she is African American. This act of segregation reveals the injustice that was present during this time period. Maya is forced to walk with her African American classmates even though she does not want to (“Graduation” 9).
This instance shows how Maya feels out of place with her own people because she does not share the same views as them. She does not want to be segregated from her white classmates and does not want to be considered different from them. Maya’s experience at her graduation shows the literary device of irony, which is used to reveal the injustice of segregation.
Maya Angelou’s “Graduation” is a coming-of-age story that reveals the pride in culture and unity tied through Marguerite Johnson’s graduation. The theme of pride in culture is revealed through Maya’s experience with Mrs. Bertha Flowers and her graduation ceremony. The theme of unity is revealed through Maya’s experience with Mrs. Bertha Flowers, her graduation ceremony, and the election results. These themes are developed through characters, symbols, and literary devices.
To begin, the Negro National Anthem at graduation signifies togetherness, demonstrating how the graduating class stands as one even through Donleavy’s harsh words. Specifically, Henry, class valedictorian, decides to lead Marguerite Johnson and her classmates through “the song called the Negro national anthem,” all in the same posture and with most of them standing on the same foot (3) The Negro National Anthem is a symbol of African American pride and unity.
The lyrics of the anthem speaks to the African American’s journey from slavery to becoming free people. The lyrics also state how despite the struggles, African Americans will persevere. This is an important message for Maya and her classmates because it gives them strength to face the racism they experience in their daily lives.
The “drink of water” (4) scene is also symbolic of Maya’s graduation. In this scene, Maya is thirsty and asks her mother for a drink of water. Maya’s mother tells her that she can have a drink of water after she graduates. This scene symbolizes Maya’s thirst for knowledge. Maya is so thirsty for knowledge that she is willing to wait until she graduates to drink water. This scene also shows Maya’s determination to succeed. Maya is determined to graduate and get a drink of water even though she is thirsty.
The “diploma in her hand” (5) is also symbolic of Maya’s graduation. The diploma represents Maya’s hard work and dedication to her education. Maya has worked hard to earn her diploma and this symbolizes her success.
Lastly, the “ring on her finger” (6) is also symbolic of Maya’s graduation. The ring represents Maya’s commitment to her education. Maya has made a commitment to herself to graduate and this symbolizes her dedication to her education.