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Central to understanding this great novel is the realisation that, above all, this is a coming of age story, which allows the protagonist, Marguerite, to find her place in the world and overcome many barriers to arrive there. However, Marguerite does not go through this process alone. During the novel we see that she has many other black women that act as mentors to guide her. For example, you might want to think about how her grandmother, her mother, Mrs. Flowers and her high-school teacher act as role models and "guides" for her as she grows up. These important characters are similar in that they are all strong black women who have gone before her and have battled through the same kind of fights that Marguerite experiences. In this sense, they have "paved the way" for Marguerite and her formation as an individual.
Interestingly, compared to the strength of these women in the novel, black men are portrayed in a rather unflattering light, appearing as barriers or problems in her path to achieving her goals. Thus Angelou seems to be making a larger, feminist point through her work, commenting on the way that black women are doubly oppressed--not just because of their race from whites, but also within their race from males.
The strong black women that are featured in this classic therefore acts as mentors or guides to Marguerite in her own journey towards becoming an adult, but also offer a sharp critique on the oppression suffered by black women from black men.
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