“Woman Work” by Maya Angelou is about a woman’s chores and jobs throughout the day. The poem relates to Maya and her life as a young single mother. The first stanza begins with a list of the chores. The list is written in a fast pace and overwhelming sense of busyness and stress. The first stanza shows that the speaker and her family are poor and do not own much. The second, third, fourth, and fifth stanzas slow down to show a resting period in the woman’s day. The woman shows that nature is important to her because it is the only thing that she owns. Nature is the only thing in her life that does not add any stress and is an outlet for her busy day.
The speaker of the poem is hardworking and probably a single mother. The woman in the poem is most likely African-American because Maya Angelou is African-American. Readers also know that she is poor because she mentions her hut, the manual labor that she is forced to do, and that nature is the only thing she owns.
One type of sound device used in the poem is consonance. The first stanza has hard consonance sounds like the T sound in gotta, tots and cotton, the hard G sound in garden, and the hard C sound in clothes, company, cane, and cotton. In contrast, the following stanzas have fewer hard consonance sounds and more soft consonances. The recognizable examples are the soft S sound in shine, softly, storm, sky, and rest, and the soft F sound in fall, float, fiercest, snowflakes, and leaf.
Marguerite Ann Johnson Angelou (who goes by Maya) is known as an actress, historian, educator, civil-rights activist, author, and poet. She was born on April 4th, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri but was raised in Stamps, Arkansas. At 14 years old, she became San Francisco’s first African-American female cable car conductor. A few weeks after her high-school graduation at age 17, she gave birth to her first son, Guy. She raised her son as a single mother for almost 10 years before she married Tosh Angelos.
The setting of the poem is the South. The first clue to the setting is “the chicken to fry.” Fried chicken is a popular dish more common in the South. The next clue to the setting is “the cane to be cut.” Cane refers to sugar cane, which can only be grown in hot climates like the southern United States. The last clue to the setting is “the cotton to pick.” Cotton, like sugar cane, can only be grown in warmer climates. These tell readers that the setting is definitely a state in the South.
The tone of the first stanza is tense and depressing. The woman is given a list of chores to do which tire her out and create more stress in her life. The tone of the second, third, fourth, and fifth stanzas is grateful and content. The woman does not have much, but she is grateful for nature and is content with it. The difference in tone is emphasized through the difference in consonance that Maya Angelou uses as a sound device.
The first stanza’s verse form is rhymed verse in the form AABB and so on for 14 lines. This verse form makes each line very quick and hurried. This adds a tedious rush to the first stanza to emphasize the amount work a the woman has to do throughout the day. The last stanzas are free verse, which makes the tempo of the poem decrease dramatically. This calms down the overwhelmed readers and give them peace, just like the woman in the poem experiences after her long day of woman work.
Maya Angelou’s purpose for writing the poem “Woman Work” is to show a woman’s struggles and to express her pain as a single mother. The poem gives everyone a look into a woman’s day that is filled with hard work and stress.
Description of Other Characters
The only human characters in this poem are the speaker and her children, who are only mentioned three times. The other character is nature, which is not human. Nature is personified as a human being who calms the speaker and lets her rest and rejuvenate for her next day.
Other Poetic Element of the Poem: Iambic Foot
An example of a poetic element in this poem is iambic foot. Iambic foot is when the emphasis is placed on the second syllable instead of the first. Most of the first stanza is written in iambic foot, including lines “The floor to mop” and “The tots to dress.”
Diction and Jargon
Diction consists of both vocabulary and syntax. In this poem, the vocabulary is straightforward. However, the syntax is a little more complicated. Most people would say that they need to mop the floor, while the woman says she has “the floor to mop.” The speaker does not use any jargon in this poem.
The theme of this poem is work and loneliness. Work is shown through the chores and daily jobs the speaker does in the first stanza. Work causes the woman stress. Loneliness is the other theme in this poem. The speaker mentions her children three times, but never brings up any husband, which is the reason for her loneliness. The woman’s loneliness digs a hole inside her soul, but she fills it with her work and nature.
Many examples of imagery can be found in this poem. The first example of imagery is in the woman’s work. The poem describes her chores for the day from baking, weeding, mending clothes, and tiding her home. The next imagery that the speaker uses paints a calm picture of nature using different seasonal examples. She uses sunshine, rain, storms, wind, and snowflakes. Mountains, the sky, oceans, stars, and moons are also examples of environmental imagery in this poem. This imagery in the poem slows down the tempo, creating a more relaxing ending for a busy start.
Maya Angelou: Global Renaissance Woman.
Dr. Maya Angelou. 2013. Web. 25 Oct 2013.