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Maya Angelou

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After reading the critical anthology, explore and analyse the use of feminism in Woman Work by Maya Angelou In this essay I am going to explore and analyse how Maya Angelou uses feminism in Woman Work to represent the typical day of a housewife and their thoughts on their domestic responsibilities. The poem was published in 1978 in part two of her book, “And Still I Rise”. The poem focuses on a hopeful determination to rise above difficulty and expectations. The poem is an escape from reality for the speaker. She is tired of the routine work that she has to revolve her life around, this is seen straightaway in the first stanza when she writes all of the tasks she has to complete before the day is out, “The floor to mop // The food to shop // Then the chicken to fry” This emphasises her feelings towards her dull and drab life whilst also showing that she has the potential to be more which brings in the use of feminism in this poem. She knows that she is more than what is expected of her which is why she asks in stanza three to be blown away “from here With your fiercest wind” She wants to break free from the traditional standards of women.

The first stanza is structured like a list, that uses repetition with “the” to emphasise how much the speaker has to get through in one day whilst also highlighting the amount of duties woman are expected to complete without help. The poem is an escape from the repetitive routine of her life which is shown in the first stanza. The first stanza also has a redundant tone when listing the tasks at hand; these chores are completed everyday which is why the speaker expresses them as negative. However, the tone changes when the second stanza begins, it becomes more wishful and optimistic and this tone carries on throughout the stanzas that follow. The poem is made up of 5 stanzas that focus on different things. Stanza one describes the activities of a domestic housewife, for example “I’ve got the children to tend // The clothes to mend”. Whilst stanza two, three, four and five focus more on natural imagery which helps to build the imagination of sensing the nature around the speaker, for example “Fall gently, snowflakes // Cover me white”.

The natural imagery used in the second, third, fourth and fifth stanzas allows the reader to see inside the speakers mind of how she is imagining the things she mentions such as, “Storm blow me from here” happening to her which gives her peace and satisfaction away from the harsh reality that is constant housework. Also, in stanza three the speaker uses personification with “Let me float across the sky // ‘Til I can rest again.” This expresses how much the speaker wants to get away from the domestic work and “float” peacefully without worry. Furthermore, the use of outdoor places in the last 4 stanzas gives the reader an insight into the speakers mind as she only mentions places that she can get lost and took away from the domestic role of a housewife. All chores are difficult and acquire hard work and determination which reinforces how the speaker is much more than just a domestic housewife. As all the tasks are difficult and require determination it highlights how she can achieve so much more than staying at home and completing chores for her family, shown when says, “I’ve got the shirts to press”.

We are not told who she is pressing the shirts for; it could be a husband or a child. However, there is no other mention of a husband which leads the reader to believe that the speaker may be a single mother. This shows that the speaker is much more than a domestic housewife as she has to provide for herself and her children whilst also ensuring they have a house which reinforces the use of feminism in this poem as she could potentially be accomplishing much more than a typical housewife without the help of a husband or man. The poem is made up of 5 stanzas. The first stanza follows an AABBCC rhyme scheme and is longer than the other stanzas as it is made up of 14 lines. Also, in the first stanza there are no commas used which speeds up the pace of the poem and makes it more intense whilst also bringing exhaustion and breathlessness to the reader. This could be to help the reader sense how the speaker is feeling everyday of her life because of all the chores she has to complete.

This is further emphasised through the use of short lines in the first stanza. It is as though the speaker’s life is too busy and hectic to stop and write a sentence, her life is made up of short and blunt to-do lists. Furthermore, in the first stanza, the speaker lists everything that she has to do. This shows how organised she is as even when complaining, it is planned and specific just like her life. However, in the next stanza you see a change in the tone of the poem, as it becomes more optimistic. The second stanza is a free verse, along with the stanzas 3, 4 and 5. This is expressing how she wants to be free from her daily duties. In addition, stanzas two, three, four and five all follow a regular, upbeat rhythm to emphasise the hope in the speaker’s mind. Also, these last 4 stanzas all contain 4 lines each, this slows the pace of the poem down which then helps the reader to reflect on what the speaker is saying and understand how the speaker is feeling. In the poem there is one narrative voice which represents the independence of this woman. It expresses how the speaker doesn’t rely on anyone else even though others rely on her, which also brings the feminist view of dominant ideology into this poem as the speaker is going against the duties and principles that dominant ideology brings to a society.

This is because through the voice of the speaker we realise how strong and powerful she is as in one day she has to get through hard chores which reinforces how the domestic woman is stronger than what is believed. Also, with their only being one narrative voice throughout the poem, we only hear the speakers point of view which could make the poem biased as the speaker could be exaggerating the chores she has to complete as she wants to run away from her problem so in order to make the reader sympathise she expresses her chores and tasks in a short but blunt list to emphasise the amount of work she has to do. In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker mentions how “sun, rain // mountain, oceans” are all that she “can call my own” which highlights the time that this poem was written as men were seen as superior and owned everything whilst women were seen as inferior and had little or no possessions which also reveals the class structure between genders at this time.

This reinforces the use of feminism in the poem as she calls all these things her own because she knows that she could never own them but believes if she calls them her own she’ll get the recognition she wants. Also, the nature brings her delight and transports her to a happy place where she can be free unlike the housework listed in stanza 1. This also emphasises how in the 1960s and 1970s woman owned very little and this is reinforced through the speaker as all this she has is her imagination and love to help her escape her depressing reality. To conclude, the use of feminism in this poem, is used thoroughly to explore the day of a domestic housewife that wants to escape her harsh reality, but physically cannot, so instead she imagines a better place and calls it her own.

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