What is the theme of Maya Angelou's novel The Heart of a Woman?

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Jacob Christiansen eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Maya Angelou's "The Heart of a Woman" interweaves two stories from Angelou's life: her coming of age as a black woman/mother and the coming of age of the civil rights movement.

The memoir is centered on her struggle to raise her son, Guy. She wants desperately to bring him up as an intelligent, questioning black man who will fight for racial equality. But she also fights to keep him safe and healthy. These tensions come into conflict at times. Throughout the book, watch for Angelou's constant concern about who Guy is associated with and what prejudices are set against him.

Alongside her concern about raising her son, Angelou's other focus is the bringing up of black women. She sees black women as an especially oppressed group. As a civil rights leader, she is constantly fighting the war against racism and oppression. Watch for her interactions with famous civil rights figures.

This public war on racism has consequences in the private raising of her son. "The black mother perceives destruction at every door," she says in the book, "ruination at each window, and even she herself is not beyond her own suspicion." Angelou is not just speaking of general difficulties in being a black mother, but also of her own specific difficulties. Angelou's memoir, then, is partially an exploration of how public work can impact private life. 

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