Exploring the Theme of Self-Actualization in Maya Angelou’s Poetry

Juan Du


Maya Angelou (1928-2014), an African American memoirist and poet, is best known for her autobiographic
novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and her long poem “On the Pulse of Morning” which she was invited
to read at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993. As a contemporary black female writer, she
distinguishes herself by infusing her art with consistent cultural consciousness, personal and cultural experience.
Her poetry reveals themes of survival, development and self-discovery of African Americans. Knowing the
destructive effects the hegemonic culture—White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) culture has exerted on
African Americans, Angelou deeply feels the need to undermine the binary opposition of the dominant and
subaltern cultures and reconstruct the cultural order. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to explore the theme of
self-actualization of African Americans in her poetry. By redefining blackness and eulogizing the self-accepted
black people, Angelou encourages African Americans to inherit their African cultural heritage and affirm their
black identity. It concludes that her work manages to awaken African American’s self-consciousness by
encouraging them to preserve and celebrate their black culture.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/ells.v4n3p65

English Language and Literature Studies   ISSN 1925-4768 (Print)   ISSN 1925-4776 (Online)

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