What is the plot of A Song Flung Up to Heaven?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The common elements of plot are as follows: exposition, inciting incident (conflict), rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.  These can certainly be found within Maya Angelou's A Song Flung Up to Heaven.  I will take each in turn.

The exposition of the story is in the early 1960s when Angelou returns to America from Ghana in order to be part of the Civil Rights Movement here.  Angelou has been hired to coordinate with and write for Malcolm X.  The inciting incident (which some people call the conflict) is the assassination of Malcolm X, as it makes Angelou's life take an unexpected turn.  This starts the rising action of the plot where Angelou tries her luck as a singer in Hawaii (to no avail) and then comes back to California working as a surveyor in the poorest areas of Los Angeles where she learns about poverty and anger.  Unrest brews in the population Angelou surveys until riots break out. 

We smelled the conflagration before we heard it, or even heard about it. . . . Burning wood was the first odor that reached my nose, but it was soon followed by the smell of scorched food, then the stench of smoldering rubber. We had one hour of wondering before the television news reporters arrived breathlessly.

Angelou eventually moves to New York and decides, after talking with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to be a spokesperson for the movement of Civil Rights. Echoing the original inciting incident of the book, the climax happens when Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated.  Again, Angelou describes her resulting depression:  "Depression wound itself around me so securely I could barely walk, and didn’t want to talk."  The falling action is, ironically, the most positive of the book.  After feeling the devastation of King's death, Angelou is courted as a writer by James Baldwin who wins her over and Angelou begins writing as her profession.  The rest is history.

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