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Maya Angelou and Richard Wright: The Dream of Freedom

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Published: Mon, 12 Feb 2018

Graduation is the best day of ever young kids life, its almost as important as learning to read and write. But in reference to both being very important, racism and segregation has played the biggest factor of them all in both “Graduation” and “The Library Card.” “Graduation,” by Maya Angelou describes the anger from racism and pride of graduation day at her segregated school. Similarily, in his article, “The Library Card,” Richard Wright describes his struggle and frustration that he faces in the process for borrowing books due to the Jim Crow laws and his reaction towards the unfair treatment of Negros in the South. I believe that most students in the world have experienced some from of racism during their school years, either from teachers, from their peers, or through an overt or covert curriculum. But in contrast to racism and segregation in these two essays, they both show that, in order for African Americans to survive they have to overcome far more situations than just whites., they had to show pride, self-respect, and courage to keep fighting through hard times. Both Maya Angelou and Richard Wright utilized various similar and distinct ideas. They both did not have accessibly to good education; they both saw light down the road to further education; Due to education both started hating white Southerners; both become discouraged/dissatisfied and then later look forward to being free for once in their segregated lives.

Imagine how it would feel to have someone of another race speak at your graduation and put your race down. This is the story of “Graduation” written by my Angelou. In this story we see how a young black girl awaits with great pride and anticipation her graduation day. When the day finally arrives, her dreams and expectations or shadowed by the speech that Mr. Donleavy, a whit man, gave to the graduating class of 1940. At the and of the story we see how the class valedictorian, Henry Reed comes back with encouraging word that help the entire audience become live and feel like they war on top gin. My Angelou used a very important literary element in this story called ton.

Ton is the attitude the speaker has toward themselves, their subjects, and their audience. In this case the speaker in this story is the young black girl. In the beginning of the story the black girl speaks with pride and self-confidence. He think very highly of herself when he states, “…I was going to be lovely. A walking modal of all the various styles of fin hand sewing and it didn’t worry me that I was only twelve years old and merely graduating from the eighth grade…” (Angelou, pp.56-80).

In the middle of the story we see that the girl is angry and disappointed at the outcome of Angelou’s graduation. As explained earlier, Mr. Donleavy addressed her graduating class with continuous remarks about the white class. He went on to say that “…the white kids were going to have a chance to become the Galileo’s and Madame Curies and Edison’s and Gauguins …” (Angelou, p.23). The young girl couldn’t believe what she was hearing: “Graduation, hush-hush magic time of frills and gifts and congratulations and diploma, was finished for me before my name was called. The accomplishments was nothing. Donleavy had exposed us.” (Angelou pg. 110) In this sentence we can actually feel the frustration and anger she felt. At the end of the story we see how her mood changed from being angry to feeling proud of herself and her race once again.

This was the outcome of a poem read by her class valedictorian, Henry Reed: “The word of Patrick Henry had made such an impression on me that I had been able to stretch myself tall and trembling and, I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty or give me death …” (Angelou, pp.120-125). In this sentence the young girl feels proud to be black and a part of the graduating class of 1940. She put aside all the awful remarks made by Mr. Donleavy and rejoiced with the encouraging words given by Henry Reed. She was proud of her race and proud to be graduating due to her full academic accomplishments.

“The Library Card,” by Richard Wright had contrasted various similar ideas as to Maya Angelou. Though Wright was prohibited by the Jim Crow laws to borrow books from the library, he imbibed knowledge of learning to read and write from the help of Mr. Falk. Mr. Falk was an Irish Catholic and was hated by the white Southeners. To show the high degree of security Wright felt in asking Mr. Falk for his library card and for breaking the Southern White’ Law. Wright, a nigger boy, prefers to ask Mr. Falk to borrow his library card for H.L. Menchken’s book because all of them—Negros, Mr. Falk, and H.L. Mencken—have the similarity of the little girl in Maya Angelou’s essay; they all were hated by the white Southeners. Since both, Mr. Falk nad Wright, are hated by Southern whites, Mr. Falk would not snitch on him for having an intention to break a Southern White’s law of not allowing Negros to borrow books from the library.

Like Maya Angelou, Richard Wright’s only accessibility to education came from the books he borrowed from the library. As “reading grew into a passion” (Wright pg 431) to Wright and his capability of looking at world began to differ, he unknowingly begins to desire freedom. Wright terms desire of freedom into “vague, unformed yearning” (Wright 433) because he had never before been enlightened to the freedom of such a degree as he had been from reading. This enlightenment makes him desire freedom further. However, Jim Crow laws prevented Wright from fulfilling his desire. Thus, he feels dissatisfied for being a Negro and not being able to pursue his desire. Since southern whites developed Jim Crow laws, he hates them. Wright clearly points out his hatred for southern whites when he writes “I could fight the southern whites” (Wright 434). He also hates his fellow-Negros who empowers whites over their Negro self. To show his disapproval with his fellow-Negros Wright refers to them as being “cold” (Wright 434). As a result, to put an end to his dissatisfaction and hate, Wright begins to plan for the “trip [to] North” (Wright 434).

By the enlightenment, Richard Wright empowers himself by elevating his pride, self-respect, and courage to rebel against the southern whites. After being enlightened about how others rebelled against southern whites, Wright denies living a life of a slave and writes “I would hate myself as much as … those who submitted” (Wright 434) to show the increment in self-respect .Wright desires to rebel against southern whites. By reading H. L. Mencken books, Wright realized how Mencken was rebelling against southern whites through his writing (Wright 428-429). Thus, by admitting that he wants to be a good writer, Wright hints of his desire to rebel against southern whites through writing. Even though Wright knows southern whites hate people who speak against them, his decision to rebel against southern whites shows his high degree of courage.

Maya Angelou and Richard Wright gave a new meaning to education for all African Americans. As learning to read and write grew among slaves, it gave birth to the desire of freedom through writing rebellion, in which Richard Wright masters his own “raging demon, slashing with his pen” (Wright pg. 433-434) imagination. The rebellion then shapes into a revolution for equal rights and then with the little aid of Rosa Parks by not seating and the great contribution of Dr. Martin Luther King JR. by never backing down, the revolution succeeds and gives a birth to the America of equal opportunity as known today. Today, Barrack Obama, an African-American, is the president of America. There is no doubt that Barrack Obama’s success is the fruit of the some tree whose roots correspond to Maya Angelou and Richard Wright’s struggle. They were heros to the African Americans not only for standing up and showing pride, self-respect and courage, but by enlightening the hearts with a passion to succeed forward.


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