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Sexism, Racism and Discrimination in Still I Rise

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In the first stanza, “Bitter, twisted lies” is the primarily used for Angelou to explain how her culture was represented in past occasions. Rather than starting off by emphasizing physical enslavement, it begins by emphasizing ways of how the wrong kinds of writing is able to imprison both the minds of the oppressed and oppressors. Simply after do we reach the first reference to actual physical oppression with “You may trod me in the very dirt”. However, the phrasing here seems more figurative than literal.

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Figuratively, to tread another person into the dirt is to treat them with a real lack of respect and nearly outrageous violence. Yet no sooner does Angelou respond, “But still, like dust, I’ll rise”. The reference to “dust” is strikingly impactful. It suggests that something more often not seen as positive, can be. It implies that something ordinarily seen as purely bothersome can actually possess a kind of resilience and power.

Angelou’s questions in the 4th stanza are direct, suitably accusing and relevant. With words used like “broken”, “bowed head” etc., it suggests the imagery of pain and suffering. She questions them if they want to see her broken, depressed, weakened and discouraged. She asks these submissively, knowing that it is indeed what many members of society desired. 

She reacts powerfully through these submissive questions, being able to clearly emphasize that she won’t be the following and that she challenges the oppressor. They wouldn’t want the sight of a black woman rise up against the oppression of her community and prevail. Angelou knows this, therefore she draws attention to it with this revealing, yet cutting questions.

In the following 9th and last stanza are metaphors and references that are a much clearer evidence that this poem was about racial discrimination. Here Angelou reveals her determination to leave behind all the effects of the past including the history of oppression and slavery with intent to rise above it. She also clarifies her intention to fulfill the dreams and hopes of her slave ancestors with their pain and suffering driving her to meet her full potential in life, which they were unable to do themselves. 

She claims that she will rise above the pain and the oppression “into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear” and leave behind the “terror and fear”. Angelou doesn’t allow the animosity of society or the pain left from the past prevent her from becoming what she’s ever dreamed of being. For this purpose, she repeats three times for a triumphant and victorious petition, “I rise”.

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