The Walls Have Been Steep Essay, Research Paper
The Walls Have Been Steep:
Recovery of the American-African Male/Female Relationship
Maya Angelou?s extraordinary ability to express so clearly the historic and contemporary pain, love, and culture of American-Africans is unparalleled in poetic literature. Her brilliant use of imagery is one of the many facets of her writing that has propelled her to be recognized as one of the greatest poets of our time. The poem she read at the Million Man March called ?The Night Has Been Long,? is a wonderful example of this unparalleled use of imagery. It leads the reader to believe that Angelou has actually experienced and genuinely feels what she is writing about though in many cases her art goes beyond personal experience. Maya Angelou can evoke any feeling she desires the reader to possess with a few remarkable strokes of a pen. In this particular poem Angelou eloquently details the problem/situation of black men and women in America and then brings forth solutions for the elimination of the problem/correction of the situation.
The very first stanza presents the reader with a fitting reference to the experience of black/American-African people. ?The night has been long/The wound has been deep/The pit has been dark/And the walls have been steep.? (Stanza 1 Angelou) Specifically, this stanza describes the American-African experience as an excruciatingly long, painful, frightening, and difficult experience in general thus far. Many authors have more than adequately depicted this same idea, but not quite like Maya Angelou. Her autobiography is an excellent example of her gift for shocking realism and a type of imagery that makes it easy to understand the time and culture in which she grew up.
In the second stanza Angelou provides the reader with a scene that focuses on the actual theme/issue of the entire work. This scene speaks volumes about one of perhaps the most important issues in black culture today: the decayed relationship between the black woman and the black man. Angelou?s image is a first person depiction of the black woman being dragged by her hair on a ?distant beach? just out of the reach of the black man who is gagged, tied, and virtually helpless. Both of their being on this ?distant beach? is symbolic of slavery and their transportation to foreign lands. The ones responsible for this course of events are whites. This scene takes place under the watchful ?dead blue sky,? symbolic of Caucasian eyes. Furthermore, this image very clearly and creatively denotes the society induced distorted communication between black men and black women, whereas black men have been solely to blame thus far.
The third stanza is an echo of the first. It serves as a continued reminder through the dialogue of the poem of the terrible experience of slavery, the aftermath, and the cycle of negativity it has perpetuated. It leads the reader to the fourth stanza where the ancestral influence on people of African descent is brought to light. Ancestral pleas to ?Draw near to one another? and ?save your race? places spiritual value on the healing efforts of Maya Angelou. The remaining portion of the poem has the same focus toward the restoration and redemption of people of African descent in general. Toward this end, stanzas six and seven recognize the inherent strengths as well as those gained as a result of suffering and hardship. Stanza seven specifically alludes to the African use of rhythm (clapping hands) for healing. ?I say clap hands and let?s deal with each other with love. Clap hands, let us come together and reveal our hearts.? The poem ends in this positive manner by citing specific areas to heal by ?clapping hands.? Clapping hands is an important aspect of spiritual healing in traditional African culture. Members of the veneration ceremony would all establish a rhythm by clapping hands to call up the ancestors to bestow their blessings on the tribe. The use of rhythm to invoke the spirit is still an important aspect of people of African descent in black churches today. Finally, by repeating a very positive affirmation pertaining to the entire race, Angelou ends the poem. ?We are a going on people, who will rise again.?
American-African culture is pregnant with apparent negative as well as positive aspects. There are several very complex and dynamic facets that one could easily discuss. Perhaps the most important is the relationship of the black woman with the black man. Since the cohesive quality or lack thereof between black men and women decides the success of the entire race, it has been indeed worth the great amount of energy many scholars have so adamantly put into seeking to heal this relationship.
Present day scholars such as Dr. Delores P. Aldridge, Dr. Na?im Akbar, and Dr. Shahrazad Ali cite a myriad of reasons for the decay or unhealthy status of American-African relationships in general. The reason most studied and discussed and the reason most undeniably logical is centered around the effect of Caucasian societal norms and values on the African. To take this idea even further, Dr. Shahrazad Ali focuses on the degree to which the American-African woman has been affected and indoctrinated as the primary reason for the dysfunctional black family unit. In The Black Man?s Guide to Understanding the Black Woman, Dr. Ali argues that black women use behavioral modification techniques on the black man to force him to go along with her ideas about how he and she should be. She goes on to say that the black woman?s views are extremely clouded by the ideas of western society. It is the black woman?s belief that these ideas are her own when in fact she is open to any and all suggestions from another race because she has no ties to her own cultural roots. In much the same way, Dr. Na?im Akbar believes that the natural and regular order of black male/female behavior has been altered against their wishes by force. No species can survive if the male or female of the species disturbs the balance of nature by acting other than normal. Because when this takes place, the male and female have trouble relating to one another as is evident in some black relationships presently. It is the vehement belief of a plethora of the authorities on American-African culture that black men and women have accepted fully the value system of European-American society. It is evident that this value system was not originally designed for the healthy promotion and development of people of color in the first place. In light of the previous sentence, it is logical to reason that black male-female conflict is none other than a function of American capitalistic tradition and historic subjugation of all non-white peoples. This very point is the first focus of Maya Angelou?s ?The Night Has Been Long.?
The second, final, and most important focus of Maya Angelou?s piece is the concentration on the healing of the black race. A large part of this healing that she personally directs centers around the involvement of ancestors as is traditional in African thought. As a whole, it has been found that African peoples rely largely on ancestor veneration for the bulk of their spiritual platform. That is not to say that Africans ?worship? or ?pray to? their dead grandfather any more than they would ?pray to? or ?worship? a living father. African ancestor veneration only asks for guidance and favor as one would do with living elders. It is their belief that the ancestors still have a vested interest in the goings on of the living and indeed still exist on some level so their favor or disfavor is something to be sought or avoided by the living. Angelou uses the inherent African respect for elders and ancestors to begin to enact a positive change in black relationships. This underlined purpose is apparent and is a regular theme in her works. As always Maya Angelou?s point is well taken.
Aldridge, Delores P. Black Male-Female Relationships. Chicago: The World
Ali, Shahrizad. The Black Man?s Guide to Understanding the Black Woman.
Philadelphia, PA: Civilized Publications, 1989
Idowu, Bolaji. African Traditional Religion. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books,
Maya Angelou Links and resources: http://ucaswww.mcm.uc.edu/worldfest/about.html