At the beginning of the book, Maya appears in front of a church congregation to recite a poem, but fails to do so and runs towards the back of the church while being judged and tripped in doing so. To highlight the stress and humiliation of the experience, she exaggerates the extent of her bladder build-up while running away as being able to burst through her head. The fact that Maya peed herself from her ordeal contributes to the theme that traumatic experiences may impart real, detrimental effects on a person.
While detailing her childhood life in Stamps, Maya remarks that whites appeared enigmatic and dreadful to colored children. Through the use of parallel structure, she emphasizes the multitude of hostilities between blacks and whites which cause colored children to view whites as unpleasantly different beings, including the fact that whites usually possessed more wealth, comfort, and influence than blacks. Maya’s candid description of the racial environment in Stamps draws attention to the theme of racial conflict resulting in segregation and dehumanization.Maya characterizes her grandmother “Momma” as a someone who conforms to the prevalent belief that whites are to be feared and spoken of gently in spite of their deplorable mannerisms. Specifically, Momma employs the idiom “didn’t cotton to” in order to express her non-adherence with the notion that whites might not be a threat in every situation. To Momma, whites pose an omnipresent danger to the black community due to their higher social standing and the previous acts of violence which whites have perpetrated against blacks. This perception reinforces the theme that the effects of racial conflict bar the prospect of racial communal unity.
After receiving terrible gifts from her mother and father one Christmas, Maya ponders upon the fact that she has not seen or lived with her parents for the majority of her life. The parallel structure of “Why did” frames Maya’s set of questions as exploratory in nature and conveys a sense that Maya longs for answers as to why she is not close with her parents. Thus, the passage exudes a yearning and slightly woeful tone which manifests Maya’s unnatural and potentially detrimental detachment from parents. Shortly after being sentenced for raping Maya, Mr. Freeman is murdered.
Maya considers herself responsible for Mr. Freeman’s death due to her lie about not having previous fondling incidents with Mr. Freeman in court; she believes that by lying and giving Mr. Freeman a lighter sentence than deserved, she instead condemned Mr. Freeman to the harsher justice of death. Hence, Maya compares Mr. Freeman to an angel recording her sins to reveal the guilt which she feels for supposedly causing Mr.
Freeman’s death. At the event of Mr. Freeman’s death, Maya’s character development unravels to a point where Maya resolves to stay silent in order to not harm anyone else through her words.A year after returning to Stamps, Maya meets Mrs. Flowers, whose poetic recitation of A Tale of Two Cities and her subsequently assigned task of memorizing a poem to recite encourages Maya to add a personal touch to words with her own voice. Maya considers Mrs.
Flowers’ lesson to her quite meaningful, comparing it to a life line in that the lesson rescued her from her dull routines in Stamps. Now, she can begin to explore means of self-expression and develop a sense of empowering personal identity. The beneficial influence of Mrs. Flowers’ mentoring contributes to the theme that having a voice can improve one’s self-esteem.One Saturday, Bailey returns home alarmingly late and faces a severe whipping by Uncle Willie.
Maya understandably feels tremendously concerned over Bailey’s punishment and reveals her concern by describing her time spent waiting for confirmation that Bailey made it through his whipping alright as an eternity. Maya’s apparently long wait to hear even a whimper or a whisper as assurance that Bailey was not dead demonstrates a caring, anxious tone in regards to Bailey’s well-being, affirming her deep-rooted connection with Bailey at the time.In the midst of a heated boxing match between Joe Louis, an African-American boxing champion, and a contender, the presumably African-American spectators of the match at the Store collectively groan in response to successive blows on Louis.
By substituting “My race” in place of “the spectators” to describe the scene, Maya emphasizes the great significance of the boxing match to the African-American community. In a sense, Joe Louis represents African-Americans, and his defeat would entail the perpetration of further injustices towards the African-American race. Thus, Maya’s description discharges a worried tone which reflects the racial worries of African-Americans.After Louise informs her that Tommy wants Maya to be his love, Maya tears up the valentine which Tommy sent due to despising the word. Traumatized by her molestation and rape by Mr.
Freeman, Maya does not want any part of what she perceives as love and compares love to the looming danger of a volcano to express how she believes love will inevitably hurt her. Maya’s initial rejection of Tommy’s valentine despite its benign innocence contributes to the theme that traumatic experiences can exert detrimental effects on a person, for her trauma almost bars her from engaging in the highly innocent flirtatious exchanges with Tommy which allow Maya to become more outspoken.Upon Vivian Baxter and “Momma” Henderson meeting at a train platform in California, they embrace, a scene which Maya vividly retains. For Maya describes Vivian as a “blithe chick” and Momma as a “large, solid dark hen” who together form harmonious sounds, it is apparent that the two get along remarkably well, their clear differences enhancing the concord between them. Maya develops maturity and confidence from Vivan and “Momma” Henderson’s encounter, as she comes to terms with her unusual childhood detachment from Vivian by acknowledging the situation as mutual and realizes that she will be able to comfortably continue to grow after the smooth transition from Momma to Vivian as her motherly figure.Maya remarks that the influx of Black workers into San Francisco to take over the positions opened by the internment of the Japanese inevitably brought about racism. By comparing the racial dynamics in the city to opening boils, she conveys that due to long-standing injustices against Blacks in history, Blacks have remained fearful of whites and in effect sustained hostilities which have manifested themselves in negative aspects.The tensions between Blacks and whites in San Francisco and their unpleasant implications enhance the theme that racial tensions alienate and divide people.
At an afternoon gathering, Daddy Clidell’s acquaintances share their stories of conning money from wealthy and arrogant whites to Maya, an unlawful practice which Maya finds acceptable. She elaborates that since Blacks are disadvantaged in society to begin with, the feat of them being able to obtain prosperity is akin in its difficulty to securing a feast as lavish as Roman general Lucullan’s banquets from mere crumbs. Therefore, Maya argues that the swindling practices of Clidell’s acquaintances are ethically justified by sheer necessity based on the hurdles against Blacks which prevent them from acquiring great sums of money through more respectable means, reflecting a reverent and assertive tone in defense of the African-American community.After confronting Dolores, Maya decides against returning home to Vivian out of fear of failing to hide the arm wound which Dolores inflicted and inciting violence. For Maya continues to hold herself accountable for Mr.
Freeman’s death and compares her guilt to a “nagging passenger” to highlight its lingering nature, Maya evidently continues to be affected by her traumatic experience with Mr. Freeman. Rather than staying silent to not hurt others, she instead abandons a sensible return to her mother to likewise avoid hurting others, reinforcing the theme that traumatic experiences can detrimentally affect a person.Indignant after having been coldly rejected from a conductorette position due to her race, Maya mentally proclaims her inner thoughts to herself. She shouts “I WOULD” three times in her inner dialogue, affirming her bold self-confidence and vigorous ambition to become a black streetcar conductor in the face of the fact that no black woman in the city has ever done so before. Maya’s strong-willed desire to break the barriers of racial prejudice exhibits her transformation from an insecure child with low self-esteem to a brazenly confident and matured woman who is willing to directly confront adversity.