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Phenomenal Woman
– Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou, born as Marguerite Annie Johnson on April 4, 1928. When Angelou was three, their parents’ marriage ended. For the next five years she was sent to love with her grandmother in Arkansas, where she was joined by her brother Bailey, who gave her the name, Maya. At the age of seven, she was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend. Angelou became mute for almost five years, believing, ‘because I told his name.’
She graduated with top honors from Lafayette County Training School in 1940. Angelou held many jobs, including some in the sex trade industry, working as a prostitute, table dancer, actor, director, author, journalist, and later was also coordinator for Martin Luther King Jr. Angelou was urged by James Baldwin to write about her life experiences. Her efforts resulted in the enormously successful 1969 memoir about her childhood and young adult years, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which was best seller by African-American woman. In 1993, Angelou recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. Angelou, published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning over 50 years. She received dozens of awards and more than 50 honorary degrees. She died on the morning of May 28, 2014.
We live in a body obsessed culture. Men and women both feel pressured to have the perfect bodies, and we believe so many lies about what a perfect body is and what defines beauty.
Maya Angelou an African-American poet , asserts the theme that, ‘Beauty is more than skin deep’. She disagrees that, beautiful woman have a good physique. Beauty has nothing to do with looks, popularity, hair, length or color. She tells that she may not be cute or good looking. Nor she has good figure, but still she is beautiful in her own right. She believes that people judge woman’s beauty by her outer appearance regardless of her inner worth. The other theme of Womanhood. A woman who has pride in being a woman, is self-confident, follows her heart and has faith in herself. Woman should not succumb the artificial canons of beauty but should feel proud about what God has made them.
In explaining her story, Angelou, in the poem, persuades her audience to listen to her “secret” in understanding her own “inner mystery.” A woman’s unique qualities are what defines her and this poem is designed to give confidence to any woman. Every woman is convinced that she is, in fact, that “Phenomenal woman”. The title and the use of the first person draw readers into this poem as it ensures that the poem does not become a generalization but reflects a very personal message.
The poem starts in a conversational fashion where a flock of women, intrigued by poet’s popularity amidst male suitors, want to know from her the secret of her success. Despite her strong refusal to fit into beauty paradigm, the poet gets maximum male attention. By her own admission, she is neither cute, nor she has a bottleneck figure. Her physical incongruity makes the questioning women more curious and they have a strong feeling that the poet conceals the secret of her success. Today women across the globe feel the need of being altered and they change into an unrecognizable form, by doing surgeries.
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
The poet proudly emphasizes that she is very happy with whatever she has and definitely is not going to take a plunge to beautify herself. What she intends to highlight is that there is no falsity about her appearance. Such honesty of her appearance exudes tremendous confidence which makes men go.
Every time she enters the room, men used to stoop flock after her just the way bees swarm around their hive. Hive of honey bees is an interesting metaphor. As bees find shelter in a hive, helpless men seek refuge in the not-so-glamorous body of the poet.
She also tells that, she remains a mystery to men. She indicates to them that her mystery is not obscure but clearly expressed in her body language. Her influence lies in her grace, in her femininity. In the last stanza, she asks her readers that they must have understood by then her power and influence on others and why her head is never bowed that is she walks confidently with her head always held high. She says that she need not have to jump or talk loudly to grab attention when she walks by.
She influences all by passing quietly yet full of expression in every gesture she makes. Finally, she restates the fact the she is a ‘phenomenal woman.’
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Throughout the poem, we find the spirit of womanhood is highlighted. This poem has the theme that ‘Beauty is not just outer appearance’. She refutes the theory that beautiful women should have well-proportioned physique and vital statistics. She disapproves the distorted view of beauty, which emphasizes more on outer beauty than inner beauty. She argues that true beauty lies within and body language is the medium through which it is expressed.
She uses the images on the physical attributes and the body language of the woman. She used imagery from head to feet and described the entire body of the woman- her hair, eyes, lips, waist, hips, feet, and her behavior and body gestures to create the image of ‘Phenomenal women’. The word is ‘Phenomenal’ has two meanings which are huge size, and second a great personality.
“If the feminine is lost on the planet, nothing of beauty, nothing of tenderness, nothing of truly aesthetic value will survive.”

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