The description of different experiences in the two stories, namely The Graduation by Maya Angelou and How to Tame a Wild Tongue by Gloria Anzaldua, helps to convey a similar message: the necessity of overcoming cultural inequality. The first story, The Graduation, depicts a vivid experience of a black girl who is 12 and finishes the eighth grade of a grammar school in the times of segregation in the South (1940). The second story, How to Tame a Wild Tongue, describes young years of a girl who grows up in a society of two cultures, one of which is dominant. The stories explore connections between language, race, culture, and identity and focus on a powerful idea that inequality is dangerous both for individuals and communities. The main message is that silence in cultural discourse is often harming for minorities, and poetry and language are the tools to overcome it on one’s way to freedom.
To begin with, the notion of silence is an important element of both stories. In The Graduation, the reader cannot miss the moment when the song Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing traditionally had to be performed by a school community; however, this time, no one sings it for a reason that becomes evident soon. This song, written by James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson, was usually performed after the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance and was culturally held as the “Negro National Anthem”. This time, because of the presence of a white official, this part of the graduation ceremony of Lafayette County Training School was skipped. Noteworthy, this lack of ritual creates a shared feeling of foreboding.
The notion of silence that harms is of central importance in How to Tame a Wild Tongue as well. Emphasized in the title of the story, this idea refers to the situation in education when students were made to speak American English language only. The main character of the story, a young American girl with Mexican background, once was caught speaking Spanish at recess and punished for that physically by the teacher using a ruler. Considering that the story is autobiographical, this scene gives the reader a glimpse of what it was like to grow up in this kind of surrounding.
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Gloria Anzaldua concentrates on languages heavily. She states that people to whom she refers as “we” speak multiple tongues, including (but not limited to) Standard English, Working class and slang English, Standard Spanish, Standard Mexican Spanish, North Mexican Spanish dialect, Chicago Spanish, Tex-Mex, and Pachuco. By listing all these languages and dialects, Anzaldua both explains how plural their cultural surrounding was (and is) and advocates celebrating diversity. The depiction of the experience of being pushed to leave one’s culture behind, no matter how rich and beloved it may be, is heartbreaking; no one can remain indifferent when reading this.
Having compared the two stories, one can see that Anzaldua offers a broader picture of inequality. Partially, that is because The Graduation is only a chapter from Maya Angelou's autobiographical novel titled I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Another reason might be the fact that Anzaldua deals with more massive matters. It means that while Angelou speaks about the personal experience of a relevant kind, Anzaldua analyzes communities with respect to languages they speak or those they are not allowed to speak in some spaces. In her own words, “For some of us, language is a homeland closer than the Southwest” (Anzaldúa). As the notion of homeland implies, it is commonly understood to be not simply a safe space but the safest one of all currently available. By calling a language “a homeland”, the author indicates its crucial importance for people’s well-being, for their sense of harmony between their identity and the surrounding world. When endangered or limited, it is not only the language that is under attack: it is each and every of its speakers.
In both stories, the reader sees that more than one factor creates a sense of “othering” between minorities and the country they live in. In The Graduation, it is the color of skin and the politics of segregation. In How to Tame a Wild Tongue, it is also the racial issue plus poor local politics and educational regulations. In both cases, it is the lack of intercultural dialogue and low personal and institutional awareness of how harmful racial prejudices can be, especially when implemented into an institutional system and the symbolic order of a dominant culture.
However, along with evidence of inequality, these stories convey a powerful message of hope and belief in a human being. In The Graduation, we have the scene of Henry Reed, who is described as a tiny boy with “hooded eyes, a long, broad nose and an oddly shaped head”, a child who dares to raise his voice against the shared sense that something went totally wrong (Angelou). After they skipped the Negro National Anthem and the white official`s speech about how great schools for white children are going to become, it must feel healing for the people to hear Henry Reed’s voice singing “Lift every voice and sing, / Till earth and heaven ring, / Ring with the harmonies of Liberty…” (Johnson). What was harming a second ago became a triumph when all the schoolchildren, teachers, and parents joined Henry in celebrating their identity through poetry, music, togetherness. In his culminating point of the story, this community beat the empty silence created by segregation.
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Anzaldua deals with silence in another way. “There is a quiet of the Indian about us”, she writes at the very end of her story (Anzaldúa). The author treats their silence as a unique feature of her people that will help them to survive that rise while norteamericano culture struggles with deserts of its own creation. Her strong stand is that no matter what happens, their language will never be lost, as well as their identities.
To conclude, the two stories analyzed in this paper depict people’s of color experiences of facing inequality that urge them to raise voices against the culture of silence. The powerful message of diversity that is worth celebrating is consonant with the call for not being ashamed of one’s voice, language, poetry, and color of skin. After all, overcoming silence for everyone is what the true freedom of speech is.