Still I Rise Themes
The main themes in "Still I Rise" are the power of Black women, the inevitability of truth, and overcoming oppression.
- The power of Black women: The speaker asserts that Black women are beautiful and strong, and dismisses any attempts by white people to make them believe otherwise.
- The inevitability of truth: The speaker knows that white people write the history books and misrepresent Black people, but she firmly believes that the truth of Black power and worth will be known.
- Overcoming oppression: The speaker overcomes every attempt by her oppressors to keep her down, highlighting the power and resilience of Black people.
Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 434
The Power of Black Women
Maya Angelou experienced life in a society where physical characteristics associated with white women were held up as the ideals of conventional beauty. However, the woman who narrates this poem is a Black woman who takes pride in herself, her physical appearance, and her sexuality. She holds her head high, takes pride in her “sassiness” and her confidence, and says that she dances as though she has “diamonds / At the meeting of [her] thighs.” Expecting her confidence to offend or even anger her white readers, the speaker brushes all judgment aside; despite people’s ability to “shoot” and “cut” her, the speaker refuses to compromise her sense of self-worth.
The Inevitability of Truth
In the first stanza, the speaker says that she knows she will be lied about in history books written by white people; she knows that she and her race will be misrepresented and “trod” into the dirt. Nevertheless, she claims that she will rise “like dust” above this situation, despite others’ efforts to contain her. She knows that she will persevere through every difficult situation, and there is victory in her relentlessness. The truth about the lies and cruelty surrounding the treatment of Black people by society will eventually be revealed; this is because the speaker intends to tell the truth herself. This poem has a tone of resilience—through every situation of “pain” and “shame,” the speaker fiercely believes that she has enough fortitude to “leav[e] behind nights of terror and fear” and live life on her own terms.
The speaker seems, in many ways, to be elemental: she aligns herself with dust, air, water, and the tides. She insists that no matter what is done to her and no matter what violence she must endure, she will still exist as she is. Carrying the hopes and dreams of the enslaved people who were her ancestors, the speaker will live a life that is not defined by oppression. She becomes a symbol, lifting up her people as she rises above her current situation. Despite the cruel manner in which she has been treated, she is still able to “laugh like [she’s] got gold mines / Diggin’ in [her] own backyard.”
This poem highlights the way in which oppression must meet its end in society. The speaker’s ancestors may have been enslaved, but that has changed. Likewise, she may be downtrodden, exploited, or at a disadvantage compared to her white counterparts, but she knows that this is only temporary. It cannot last forever, because she will continue to overcome oppression and hatred.