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Submitted By funkyjibs
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English 152
October 24, 2011

Essay Assignment #1

Published in 1978, Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman” was written as an ode to womanhood. Comprised of four stanzas, the poem uses the effect of repetition to reinforce Angelou’s claim as a self-proclaimed “phenomenal woman.” As a phenomenal woman, Angelou states, “I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size,” (2). She goes on to use several quotes like such. “Phenomenal Woman” uses various literary effects to express to women that it isn’t genetic beauty which is important; rather, it is inner beauty and confidence which makes a woman beautiful and the poem’s repetition of the phrase “phenomenal woman” creates an effect in the poem which emphasizes what it means to be a woman.

The first stanza in “Phenomenal Woman” begins with Angelou expressing the curiosity which “pretty women” (1) have with her “beauty.” Pretty women don’t see physical beauty in her, yet they see another type of beauty portrayed and question her as to what it may be. Angelou tells them, “It’s in the reach of my arms/the span of my hips/the stride of my step/the curl of my lip/I’m a woman/phenomenally/phenomenal woman” (6-12). Through the use of metaphorical phrases, the author is expressing to the women that she has confidence and it is displayed in how she expresses her femininity. For example, in the way she walks and talks. These things make her beautiful, or a phenomenal woman.

In the second stanza of the poem, Angelou depicts herself walking into a room full of men, who all bow to her upon her entrance. “I walk into a room/just as cool as you please/and to a man/the fellows stand or/fall down to their knees/then they swarm around me/a hive of honey bees” (14-20). Angelou describes how when she enters a room, she does not have to do much to show her beauty, yet it is expressed in her confidence and her overall aura. Men are drawn to her not because of how beautiful she may be or what she is wearing, but simply because, again, she is a phenomenal woman.

The third stanza of “Phenomenal Woman” discusses how men themselves aren’t even sure what it is they see in the author which draws them to her. “Men themselves have wondered/ what they see in me/they try so much/but they can’t touch/my inner mystery” (30-34). Again, Angelou uses metaphors to illustrate the depth of her womanhood. She says that men cannot touch her “inner mystery” (34), which means that her confidence and beauty is intangible and their admiration for her lies within her inner-beauty. Furthermore, Angelou says “It’s in the arch of my back/the sun of my smile/the ride of my breasts/the grace of my style/I’m a woman/phenomenally/phenomenal woman” (38-44). In line 41, “the grace of [her] style” is mentioned, which further suggests that her beauty comes from within, because grace is an object of intangibility. As well, she reemphasizes what it means to be a woman by saying she is a “phenomenal woman.”

The final stanza in the poem begins with Angelou’s confirmation of her audience’s understanding of what makes her a phenomenal woman. “Now you understand/just why my head’s not bowed/I don’t have to shout or jump about/or have to talk real loud/when you see me passing/it ought to make you proud” (46-51). Angelou signifies and reemphasizes the fact that she doesn’t have to “try too hard” to be a woman because it is portrayed in the content of her character. The poem ends with the reiteration of being a phenomenal woman. “’Cause I’m a woman/phenomenally/phenomenal woman/that’s me” (57-60).

In this poem, each of the four stanzas ends with the phrase “phenomenal woman.” According to Dictionary.com, the denotation of the word “phenomenal” is “highly extraordinary or prodigious,” or “exceptional.” In “Phenomenal Woman,” Angelou uses a different connotation for the word “phenomenal.” From this poem, one may interpret the connotation of the word “phenomenal” to mean confident, or even beautiful in some instances. The repetition of the phrase “phenomenal woman” emphasized its connotation of confidence and beauty to define and reiterate what it means to be a woman. The connotation of “phenomenal” can be seen as polysemous in this poem because it expressed more than one meaning.
As well, literary effects can also be seen in the poem “Phenomenal Woman.” Angelou capitalizes on literary effects through the use of metaphors and symbolism. For example, line 33-34 says “but they can’t touch/my inner mystery” (33-34). This was great use of a metaphor, as the author compared her “inner mystery” to something of possible tangibility. Moreover, Angelou uses in-depth symbolism to symbolically explain what makes her a woman. Lines 8 and 9 say, “the stride of my step/the curl of my lips” (8-9). In that, Angelou symbolically says “stride of my step” to describe her walk, and “curl of my lips” to define how she talks.
Overall, Angelou does a great job in this poem to illustrate and emphasize what it means to be a woman to her audience. She uses several metaphors and great symbolism to portray different facets of womanhood such as walking, talking and body size. As well, she reinforces the theme of being a “phenomenal woman” to emphasize the meaning of being a woman. “Phenomenal Woman” uses various literary effects to express to women that it isn’t genetic beauty which is important; rather, it is inner beauty and confidence which makes a woman beautiful and the poem’s repetition of the phrase “phenomenal woman” creates an effect in the poem which really emphasizes what it means to be a woman.…...

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