Defiance, Self-confidence and Overcoming Adversity in 'Still I Rise'

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About this sample


Words: 1100 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Apr 8, 2022

Words: 1100|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Apr 8, 2022

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty”. These are the words of, Dr. Maya Angelo an activist, author, and writer, a woman of colour whose literature acted as a glimmer of hope for those who couldn’t find it in themselves. Her poem Still I Rise tells the story of how a lady, brought up in a world of hate and neglect still found it in herself, to overcome her oppressors and thrive in adversity. Her positive attitude is radiant throughout the poem and her legacy lives on through her literature, which still inspires so many to this day, including myself. In today’s episode of the podcast we will analyse and evaluate how Maya Angelou in the poem “Still I Rise” is able to inspire and influence the reader, while successfully representing themes of defiance, self-confidence, overcoming adversity and triumph through the use of poetic devices such as language features, diction and sounds.

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In the first segment of, we will discuss the strategic implementation of poetic structure, followed by the importance of figurative language and then finally, word choice. I look forward to your company today, let us begin.

Angelou strategically implements refrain with a diverging structure in her poem, Still I Rise to successfully emphasise her main ideas and shift to a more future-focused ideology. Refrain or the repeated use of a verse or phrase at the end of a stanza is used consistently throughout the poem to allow the reader to recall and reflect on important concepts. The expression “Still I Rise” is repeated eleven times throughout the poem including the title. “Still I Rise” is repeated eight times ensuing main ideas, or in the very last line of the stanza, such as in stanza 8, “out of the huts of histories shame, I rise, up from a past rooted in pain, I rise”. This deliberate placement highlights Angelou’s defiance, and themes of overcoming adversity no matter the circumstances. “Still I Rise” is used seven times in the last two stanzas, developing recall and allowing the reader to later remember essential elements. In addition, the author alters her structure from four lines in the first seven stanzas to six and nine lines, respectively in the last two stanzas. This change in structure and the increase in use of repetition, further supported by the change of the use “you” to “I” creates a significant change in the poem's tone. Angelou has triumphed over adversity, breaking the shackles of a past filled with hatred, to a future of hope and aspiration. Therefore, the author's successful use of structure and refrain strengthens the author's theme of hope and triumph over adversity.

The use of figurative language in the poem Still I Rise constructs vivid imagery that supports the author's theme. The use of metaphors and similes incorporating indestructible natural phenomena can be taken as a clear and defiant message of strength and perseverance. In stanza 8 the author uses a metaphor to compare her attributes to a “black ocean, leaping and wide”. This carefully constructed metaphor is not only a representation of Angelou’s qualities, but a reference to the defining characteristics of the leaders, who alongside her triumphed over adversity. This metaphor references her fellow African Americans, who just like the irrepressible nature of an ocean's tide, never stood down, never rested and never lost hope. Furthermore, this metaphor aims to help people find leadership within themselves, by comparing the confusing qualities of leadership to something in which the reader is can relate to and understand. The author also uses similes regularly throughout the poem, associating her identity, livelihood, and body with symbols of natural beauty and wealth. In stanza 2 Angelou states “I walk like I’ve got oil wells pumping in my living room”, additionally in stanza 7 she says, “does it come as a surprise that I dance like I’ve got diamonds at the meeting of my thighs”. By addressing the stereotypical tie between masculinity and wealth, these similes call upon the racist and misogynist ideologies of the past in the hope to build foundations of equality and love in the future. More importantly, comparing one’s body to the beauty and strength of a diamond, establishes pride and fulfillment in the body image of her readers; who still don’t recognise their own individual strengths; or who are weighed down by the unacceptable views of the past. In summary, Maya Angelou successfully employs similes and metaphors through the comparison of natural symbols to institute leadership qualities and break down outdated beliefs in an attempt to create a positive body image among her readers.

In the poem Still I Rise, poet Maya Angelou employs a consistent inculpatory diction which effectively coveys the importance of standing up for yourself, the importance of self-confidence and positive self-esteem. The inculpatory diction, utilising high modality and highly personal language overshadows the poem’s playfulness with a bold and accusatory tone. “you may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness”. This poem is not just addressed to anyone, but the people who have “trod her in the dirt”. She is calling out the system, something far greater than herself, she is standing up for what is right, and she calls upon you to join her. This is when the poem becomes universal, inspiring people across the globe to stand up against injustice. This defiant tone is further supported by the author’s choice to use hyperboles and adjectives in an oddly ludicrous, but beautiful way, “Does my sassiness upset you”, “does my sexiness upset you? and “does my haughtiness offend you?”. This use of arrogant language as she taunts her oppressors displays an unmatched level of self-confidence and belief in herself and her identity. This playful teasing creates energy that pules throughout the poem, radiating positivity while also getting across a clear message, injustice, discrimination, and oppression is no longer accepted, there is hope and we can rise together. Ultimately the poet successfully combines humorous, playful, highly personal and accusatory language in a hope to inspire her readers to stand up for themselves and triumph over adversity.

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To summarise, through the successful implementation of diction, figurative language and structure, Angelou inspires her readers through the effective representation of themes of defiance, self-confidence and overcoming adversity. In closing, Angelou's use of refrain and diverging structure emphasises her main ideas and shifts meanings. Her use of metaphors and similes constructs vivid imagery, inspires leadership and promotes change. Lastly, Angelou’s use of diction inspires her readers to stand up against injustice.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Defiance, Self-confidence and Overcoming Adversity in ‘Still I Rise’. (2022, April 08). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 21, 2024, from
“Defiance, Self-confidence and Overcoming Adversity in ‘Still I Rise’.” GradesFixer, 08 Apr. 2022,
Defiance, Self-confidence and Overcoming Adversity in ‘Still I Rise’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Jun. 2024].
Defiance, Self-confidence and Overcoming Adversity in ‘Still I Rise’ [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 08 [cited 2024 Jun 21]. Available from:
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