Angelou is one of the great voices of contemporary African-American literature. She is best known for her series of five autobiographical novels such as All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes. In addition to her great literal works as an autobiographical writer, Angelou has also written poetry, performed as a singer and dancer, written, directed, and acted in plays and films, and has composed musical scores. Critics and readers alike praise her dynamic prose style, poignant satire, and her universal messages. In one of her interviews Angelou states “I speak to the black experience but I am always talking about the human condition—about what we can endure, dream, fail at a still survive.” In this regard, Angelou’s literary works reflect her tenacity in overcoming social obstacles and her struggle for self-acceptance
My choice of Angelou’s All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes is regard to her past social and political influence. Angelou was hailed as a new kind of memoirist, her literary works do not only evoke an emotional chord but they also publicly speak of her personal life. , black female writers were victims of hostile reception, to the point that they were unable to present themselves as central characters. Through her biography, Angelou became recognized and highly respected as a spokesperson for women and blacks. In this respect it has made her “without a doubt ... America's most influential black woman auto-biographer".
Angelou’s literal works are based on a rich African foundation. A close read of the book All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes reveals particular cultural practises such as yelling, "Ko ko koko ko" when entering someone's quarters. This is a practise common in most West African houses. The explanation goes: West African houses in the interior are often made of thatch or non-resonant land-crete, so a visitor seeking entrance, unable to rap on a responding door, would politely stand outside and make the sound of knocking, "ko ko ko, ko ko ko." Personally, I was not aware of such a practise but the intimacy in Maya’s words when she speaks of it provided me with the knowledge of this practise. She addresses this cultural practise with a note of urgency providing a clear picture of her roots.
Angelou has curved out a niche in the autobiographical scene by developing her own self-portrait through a combination of present incidents and past recollections, in which events and responses are often meant to recall earlier moments. Thus, in Travelling Shoes she thinks warmly of her mother, Vivian Baxter, remembering how she had instructed her Maya and Bailey in the art of survival, much as Maya has instructed Guy, and how Vivian was her doting mother. She recollects of her journey through rural East Ghana she remembers the compassion her grandmother, Annie Henderson, had shown to African Americans travelling during segregation, when they were denied bed, board, food, and decent toilets. Angelou points out a meticulous scene when Maya and her roommates hire a village boy named Kojo to do house chores; she associates his intense colour and delicate hands with her brother Bailey.
In one very sad story that was told to Maya, one can not help but be reminded of a horrific scene such as the mind boggling scene of Seth’s defacement of the title character of Toni Morrison's Beloved. Maya's narrator stated that they had seen some mothers and fathers taking infants by their feet and bashing their heads against tree trunks rather than seeing them being sold into slavery. Nonetheless, in Beloved, Sethe's plan to slay all her children for this same reason did not come to completion though one child whom she had managed to kill was flung by the feet into the arms of a bystander trying to discourage her intentions. The painful note that Angelou addresses through the character Of Maya’s story teller gets In touch with the readers emotional side. I could help but relate with this particular excerpt from Maya’s book. The question that flung across my mind was how they could let this happen?
At times the reference to a family member is barely noticeable. This is in regard to her recollection that African Americans who emerge as childlike might actully be acting bravely. This is illustrated by “humming a jazz tune while walking into a gathering of the Ku Klux Klan” (76). The method of droning as a way to dispel fear is an unmistakable similarity to the scene in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings where Mama outlives the three “powhitetrash” children by humming a tune (23-27). Moreover, Angelou laughs at the idea of her father, Sr. Bailey Johnson, leaving the console of San Diego to make the acquaintance of her wooer. She recalls that Sr. Bailey believed Africa was inhabited by “savages” (94).
Nonetheless her capacity to connect emotionally, as mother and woman has given Maya Angelou a distinctive edge as an auto-biographer. Her communication of her misfortunes sets a stage of appreciation for her readers irrespective of their race and gender. Her readers in this respect are able to relate to her emotions since she makes them accessible in her work. She has verbal influence, through her own self-portrait of a black woman, to eliminate many of the looming stereotypes by demonstrating the trials, rejections, and endurances which so many Black women share. It is this ability that has both readers and critics alike praising her dynamism and strong character.
Angelou depicts a vivid episode like the visit of Malcolm X to create flexible characters. These altercations, sprinkled within her larger account of self-development which is often read like short stories or vignettes. Majority of them are fixed not on renowned world leaders but on the citizens of Accra and its outskirts. Angelou’s exchange with the African manservant, Kojo, is the most pleasant of these character sketches, since it ensnares her once again in a disinclined role. She is obliged to go to Kojo’s school to talk about his grades with the headmaster. Vicki and Alice on the other hand, are persuaded into supervising homework assignments in math and mapmaking. Maya made to involve herself in a dialogue with a mere boy of fourteen, who asserts that he has a right to debate personal issues such as whether she should or shouldn’t acknowledge the gift of a refrigerator from her Malian suitor.
Angelou’s affiliations with contemporary Africans have an upbeat effect on her self-awareness and her personal growth. The sight of Maya’s dissolution following Guy’s car crash, Julian Mayfield admonishes her for becoming a wreck: “Hell, its Guy whose neck is broken. Not yours”. He later introduces her to an outstanding African woman, folklorist Efua Sutherland, who is the director of the National Theatre of Ghana; in her autobiography she praises her as a woman of compassion and sensitivity. Their friendship is impulsive from the start. As a result of the consolation of Brother Mayfield and Sister Sutherland, Maya is able to break a tear for the first time since Guy’s accident. Sutherland retains a strong connection throughout the autobiography, offering advice and strengthening Angelou’s sense of belonging to the Ghanaian intellectual society. Angelou reinforces their bond by aiding in the design of costumes and in training actors at Efua’s National Theatre.
When approached by African men, Angelou is not always so discouraging. It is clear that Angelou may have enjoyed her physical intimacy with black men. The most passionately described male in Travelling Shoes is Sheikhali who was a rich importer from Mali, a state southwest of Ghana. Angelou describes him as “sublimely handsome,” very tall, dark skin and adorned in elegant robes (66). She consents to go to his house and soon afterward Sheikhali proposes marriage even though there is a snag. As it is a tradition among Muslim men in West Africa, he already had 8 children from two women, his wife being one of them. Nonetheless, he wanted Maya to be his second wife, if only she was willing to become accustomed to the marriage customs of Mali and reject her “White woman way” of impatience (94). Maya found this proposition quite unacceptable owing to her strong sentiments and ideologies.
Angelou’s literal works address key political issues especially from her native country Ghana. Therefore through her years as a writer she has developed a liking for most of the African men prominent in Ghanaian politics. She is an enthusiastic supporter of Kwame Nkrumah, the former Ghanaian president who helped establish the Pan-African Movement in the 1940s and 1950s and the Organization of African Unity in 1963. Even though his leadership was overthrown in 1966, a few years after Angelou’s departure, she states that her presence in Ghana afterwards would have been unstablizing and that’s why she quotes that she would never return.
Furthermore, most of Angelou’s meetings with African men and women are positive ones that add to her rising intoxication with Africa as she tries to learn about her heritage. Her physique and skin colour suggest her African ancestry but so do the cultural contributions of African Americans, whose shouts, blues and gospels echo the beats of West Africa. Le Roi Jones confirmed the association between African American Negro music in his book Blues People (1963), where he noted that the blues and other black forms could not have existed if the African prisoners had not become American slaves (17).
Maya Angelou, as an established writer aims at addressing key issues from her roots, as both narrator and central character in her own story, she is concerned with capturing the rhythms of Africa as they affect her reinvigorated ties with her ancestors. Through her travels within West Africa she realizes the existence of particular ties between her American traditions and those of her ancestors. She is hit by a state of déjà vu and believes herself almost home when an African woman, Foriwa, points out to her as one of the Bambara group on the based on similar characteristics such as height, hair, and skin complexion. This incident develops a connection between her and a number of African mother figures, among them Patience Aduah, who is the modern age Mother Theresa, and is generous in giving away food to the people of her village.
When Angelou heeds to one of Nana Nketsia’s speeches, for example, she notes that the chief’s regal voice captures the rhythms of black preachers. Moreover, she notes that the African experience is comparable to her own background. She is wedged between identifying African things as well as using the African culture as a way of acknowledging the deserted country of her birth. Her need to emphasize Ghanaian relations with African American parallels, shows why Dolly A.McPherson calls Maya’s “double-consciousness”—an apparition of herself having both African and American components (1990, 113). With her identification with Africa, she finds the framework in which to discover her selfhood and to reiterate the meaning of motherhood.
During one interview Angelou was asked what her aspirations as an autobiographical writer were. She said that of her mission was to take the stories of Africans back with her to the United States, she likens her literal work to Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation by asserting that her work will serve as a reminder to all African American’s and all those African natives living in the diaspora, whose ancestors survived the horrendous transportation of slaves from West Africa to the Americas. While in her return from Accra, as she had been advised by Malcolm X, Angelou is able to bring to her country a first-hand account of a continent that most African Americans have deeply felt but rarely visited. Her unforgettable search for roots echoes now, as it did then, through her myriad of interviews on television, in periodicals, and in the popular press. As one of the most popular of all contemporary auto-biographers, Maya Angelou extends a tradition initiated by slaves and continually reimaged by popular writers of African descent.
In conclusion, the book All God’s Children wear shoes greatly reflects Angelou’s struggle for self acceptance. She curves out an emotional edge that creates an instant connection between her and the reader. It is imminent that this literal work aims at helping Maya come to terms with her roots. She voices out slavery intimately highlighting the level of concern. Her description of Guy’s accident and her trip to Ghana clearly shows that the writer is struggling to come to terms with her roots.