The overall tone of this poem is one of cool defiance. In that sense, one could say that it expresses considerable strength and fortitude. At the same time, such strength and defiance emerge out of sadness at the memory of centuries of racial oppression. The speaker cannot and will not ignore this oppression, despite the immense sadness it must evoke.
But out of this sadness arises strength—the strength that enables the speaker to assert her identity as an African American woman in the face of the continued oppression of her race. It is impossible to put aside sadness completely without erasing the past. And yet, as the speaker clearly realizes, sadness can also serve as a motivation to dig deeper into her soul and affirm herself in the midst of a society still rife with racism.
Although the speaker uses images that are troubling in the poem "Still I Rise," the overall tone is one of strength as the speaker narrates a firm determination to rise above all persecution and thrive.
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