Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes is about hopelessness and repeats the theme of displacement. However, in this instance, the sense of displacement is more complex than in I Know Where the Caged Bird Sings. In the 1960’s, Angelou travels to what she believes is the place of her African roots, hoping that this country will fill the vacuum she feels for home. By returning to the land of her ancestors, where all are black regardless of color, she hopes to find and perhaps recognize “home.” She joins other black Americans also questing for identity and security, and, like most of them, Angelou discovers that the geographical search is a misleading one. The source of security, she comes to learn, is not in a place but within oneself.
Angelou chooses to live in Ghana following the end of her marriage. Kwame Nkrumah is Ghana’s beloved ruler five years after its independence from Britain, and there is a sense of pride in the new country. Angelou joins a group of black Americans who have come to Ghana to be part of the great experiment. Angelou hopes that she and her son will find a land freed of the racial bigotry she has faced wherever she has lived or traveled. Hopeful and idealistic, she sets herself up for disappointment and disillusion. During her three-year stay in Africa, she is not welcomed as she has expected to be; even more painful, she is frequently ignored by the very people with whom she thinks she shares...
(The entire section is 596 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes belongs to a series of autobiographical narratives tracing Maya Angelou’s personal search for identity as an African American woman. In this powerful tale, Angelou describes her emotional journey to find identity and ancestral roots in West Africa. Angelou reveals her excitement as she emigrates to Ghana in 1962 and attempts to redefine herself as African, not American. Her loyalty to Ghana’s founding president, Kwame Nkrumah, reflects hope in Africa’s and her own independence. She learns the Fanti language, toys with thoughts of marrying a prosperous Malian Muslim, communes with Ghanaians in small towns and rural areas, and identifies with her enslaved forebears. Monuments such as Cape Coast Castle, where captured slaves were imprisoned before sailing to America, stand on African soil as vivid reminders of an African American slave past.
In Ghana Angelou hopes to escape the lingering pains of American slavery and racism. Gradually, however, she feels displaced and uncomfortable in her African environment. Cultural differences and competition for employment result in unpleasant encounters between Ghanians and African Americans. Despite such frustrations, Angelou’s network of fellow African American emigrants offers mutual support and continuing hope in the African experience. A visit by Malcolm X provides much needed encouragement, but his presence is also a reminder of ties with the United States. Angelou and her African American friends express their solidarity with the American Civil Rights movement by demonstrating at the United States embassy in Ghana.
As she sorts through her ambivalent feelings about Africa, Angelou also rethinks her role as mother. At the beginning of All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, Angelou’s son Guy almost dies in an automobile accident. Later in the narrative he develops a relationship with an older woman and struggles to gain admittance to the University of Ghana. In dealing with all these events, Angelou learns to balance her maternal feelings with her son’s need for independence and self-expression. Finally recognizing the powerful ties binding her to American soil, Angelou concludes her narrative with a joyful journey home from Ghana and a renewed sense of identity as an African American.