All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes

by Maya Angelou
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Masterpieces of Women's Literature All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 493

As a country, Ghana is a particularly significant setting. Considered the most progressive black country in Africa during the early 1960’s, it had achieved independence from colonial British rule in 1957. Set against the background of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement in the United States and the often-ugly response there to African Americans’ search for freedom, Angelou’s autobiography describes Ghana as a haven for African American expatriates. In Ghana, black skin was accepted and loved, blacks were in power, and the leader of the country, Kwame Nkrumah, had made a special point of welcoming Africans of the diaspora—that is, those who had been scattered by slavery to America and the Caribbean. As Angelou writes, “For the first time in our lives, or of the lives of our remembered families, we were welcomed by a president.” Also, Nkrumah’s theory of the African personality—a personality shared by both Africans and Africans of the diaspora—was particularly appealing to Angelou and the other African American expatriates, for it implied that they shared something with native Africans that the years of intervening slavery could not take away. Moreover, such a theory urged forms of thinking and expression that were alternatives to European-based ones, something that satisfied the expatriates’ desire to revolt against white American authority, which they believed to be traditionally hostile to African Americans.

To underline her efforts to bridge the gap between her American existence and her African roots, Angelou uses the simple technique of comparing her family’s cultural traits and traditions to those that she finds in Africa. She is attuned to similarities in the sound of voices and the way of walking. Kojo’s color, roundness of head, and small hands remind her of her brother Bailey. When the villagers of Dunkwa take Angelou in, neighbors bring her host food to help feed her; she is reminded of the segregation era in the United States, when blacks were denied access to motels and were harbored in the homes of welcoming strangers, their hospitality aided by neighbors who brought food.

Angelou does not oversimplify her relationship with Africa. Gratifying confirmations of her Africanness are accompanied by doubts. She is met with disappointments, discomforts, and a sense of not always belonging. Her view of Africa is made ambivalent by the haunting knowledge that among the very Africans with whom she wishes to meld are the descendants of those who sold her ancestors into slavery. “Can one ever return? Can one ever be reconciled?” she seems to ask. At book’s end, she has reached some degree of peace, seems satisfied with the rewards that she has gained, and is able to universalize her experience. “If the heart of Africa still remained allusive [sic], my search for it had brought me closer to understanding myself and other human beings. The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

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Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes Analysis


Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)