Literary devices are
an important aspect of any work. They are a unique way to convey messages to the audience of a piece. As a writer, Maya Angelou
incorporates a variety of literary devices into her work. With each new piece she writes, Angelou seeks to include a feature
that makes it different from her other poems. The easiest way for her to complete this task is by altering the literary device
she uses, or by using ones that she has not used previously. Still, the majority of Angelou’s work shows evidence of
imagery, metaphors, similes, personification, and diction.
Imagery is defined
as, “the use to description to create an image in the mind of the reader” (“Poetry Project”). In her
autobiographical piece, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou constantly uses imagery to have her audience experience her
own lifelong memories. She not only includes visual imagery, she also includes the smells, tastes, feelings, and sounds associated
with any event. In her autobiography, Angelou lets readers feel the impact of seeing
her mother after too long of a time through the use of imagery: "My mother's beauty literally assailed me. Her red lips (Momma
said it was a sin to wear lipstick) split to show even white teeth and her fresh-butter color looked see-through clean."
Metaphors are a convenient way to speak through writing in
a manner that can either be very direct, or that can sprout uncertainty in the reader. Metaphors are defined as, “an
association of two completely different objects as being the same thing. [They are] considered a powerful form of communication
because they disregard logic” (“Poetry Project”). Maya Angelou realizes the powerful effect
of her own metaphors and has almost learned to use them in her work as a tease to her audience. In the final stanza of her
poem “Still I Rise,” Angelou says, “Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave, I am the dream and the hope
of the slave.” By making such a strong declaration through a metaphor, Angelou leaves a remarkable impression on her
Similes are similar to metaphors, except that they use the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ to lighten
the effect of a claim. Similes do not tend to defy logic, which is another reason why they are less powerful. As strong as
she is, Maya Angelou is still able to make an effective use of similes despite their generalized weakness. One of her most
well recognized a simile is from the poem “Still I Rise,” when she writes, “You may trod me in the
very dirt/But still, like dust, I’ll rise.” Dust is typically seen in a negative view, but with her simile, Angelou
changes dust into something positive.
“using the qualities of a person to describe an inanimate object” (“Poetry Project”). In the poem
“On the Pulse of Morning,” Angelou personifies various objects such as a rock, river, and tree so they literally
speak to the audience and carry Angelou’s message across. In the poem she writes,
“But today, the rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully, Come, you may stand upon my back and face your distant destiny,
but seek no haven in my shadow.” Here, Angelou has taken the typical uses of a rock and stated them from the view of
a rock. Although the rock says something that is already known to humans, his words are still impacting, as rocks do not truly
speak. It is almost like when a baby says its very first word; the whole experience is striking.
The last device Angelou uses most is diction. Diction, as a matter of fact, is a constant aspect of
any one of Angelou’s pieces. She has learned to be flexible with her diction and changes it with each piece she writes
so that it fits with the theme and message of her work. Phenomenally, she is known for keeping at least one dictionary and
one thesaurus by her side when she writes. In “I Know Why the Caged Bird” sings, Angelou writes, “the murmurs
of waking people were sliced by the cash register as we rang up the five-cent sales.” The sentence is typical, but strikes
the audience with the use of the word ‘slice.’ It is not mellow, like the other words in the sentence, but much
rougher and conveys the disruption of cash register in the early morning most fittingly.
is one of the paramount users of literary devices. She uses a variety of devices and is not afraid to try using new ones.
The devices Angelou uses most commonly, however, are imagery, metaphor, simile, personification, and diction.