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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

In “Woman Me,” Angelou addresses her subject (everywoman) directly through the use of the personal pronoun “you.” In so doing, the poet achieves a sense of intimacy. Yet this sense of intimacy is directed, as previously mentioned, not at one particular woman, but at all women. The poet writes to women of women. The title of the poem, “Woman Me,” indicates that in addition to addressing other women. Angelou is both writing about and addressing herself in the “you” of the poem.

The major theme of Angelou’s poem is woman’s strength. The poet begins the first line of each of the three stanzas with one of the three features that she believes constitute the essence of woman’s strength. The first stanza opens with the phrase “Your smile.” This smile is woman’s sign of reconciliation with herself and with man. It is a sign that she acknowledges but does not accept the traditional authority of men; she must trust in her own power, even though this power is unrewarded by society’s standards. Woman’s smile is represented as a sign of peace, not of resignation or passivity. It is a sign that she can acknowledge the males in authority while knowing that it is to her that these men look for strength and comfort. Woman is depicted as smiling on the outside despite the revolutions that stir within her spirit.

The second stanza opens with the phrase “Your tears.” Woman’s pain becomes the focus of this stanza. The tears, however, like the smile, are an indicator not of weakness but of power. The significance of the tears lies in the fact that woman’s power lies in her capacity not only to feel but also to show her feelings without shame; this is the power that caused kings and pharaohs to both desire and fear her.

“Your laughter” opens the final stanza. In praising the capacity of women to regard the pain and tragedy of life not with bitterness but with humor, Angelou focuses upon that quality that allows women not only to survive, but also to affect the lives of the people around them, particularly children. In the closing stanza of the poem, woman’s laughter is heard ringing out even louder than the bells of “ruined cathedrals,” implying that woman is a source of strength and authority even more powerful than the traditional and established authority of the church.