Phenomenal Woman | Summary & Analysis

Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou wrote the poem “Phenomenal Woman,” which was originally released in 1978. The poem challenges limited cultural standards for women and offers an alternate viewpoint on what constitutes true beauty. The speaker maintains that the characteristics of genuine beauty are self-assurance and contentment in one’s own skin. “Phenomenal Woman” challenges restrictive notions of feminine beauty. The speaker rejects narrow societal beauty standards and insists instead that real beauty comes from a place of self-confidence and self-acceptance.

Summary of Phenomenal Woman

In the poem ‘Phenomenal Woman,’ The poet describes the looks which are expected by the fashion industry. She doesn’t look like a model but her secret of beauty reveals confidence and a smile.  She is not an ordinary woman. When she enters the room and every single man desperately longs for her attention.  They are like honey bees buzzing around her due to her physical beauty.  They wonder what makes her so special and what attraction makes them feel so excited.  But they could not come close to her for they don’t understand the real secret of her attraction.

The beauty lies not in her appearance but in the way she carries herself.  Her confidence, her postures and her smile, her elegant style all make her an extraordinary woman.  She doesn’t need to compare herself with any others. She is unique.  She inspires others.  Her appearance shines in the way she walks and in the way her hair falls, the way she cares. She is an extraordinary woman.

About the Writer of the Poem ‘Phenomenal Woman

Maya Angelou was an American poet and civil right activist.  Her seven autobiographies, three books of essays and several books of poetry, plays, movies and television shows made her a remarkable person.  Her dozens of awards and 50 honorary degrees made her well-known.  Her autobiography focuses on her childhood and early experiences.  Her “I know why the caged bird sings” portrays her life up to the age of 17 and brought her international recognition and acclaim.  She died on May 28th 2014 at the age of 86.

Detail Analysis of The

Stanza One

“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies,
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s within the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

In the first stanza, Angelou speaks about how other women wonder about her looks. The speaker lacks the accepted formula for the beauty of the modern fashion industry.  But she is certain that other women are jealous of her. other women want to find out the secret of her beauty.    She is confident that her beauty lies in the reach of her arms, hips and lips.  She expresses confidence.  She describes her hips, and the stride of her steps. She is unique and she is satisfied with her appearance.  She doesn’t care about the modern version of beauty.  She admires the shape of her lips.  She is phenomenally a pretty woman with great confidence.

Stanza Two

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now she tells the secrets of her beauty.  She discusses the charming spell she casts over the men her charming is not her physical beauty but something from inside her so pretty and attractive.  She walks into a room cool and calm.  But the men would fall on their knees and gather around her as a hive of honey bees.  It is her braveness in her eyes and her smile smooth movement of her wait and the happiness in the way she walks by her feet that make her so special and attract the men.   Her confidence attracts all men.  When many women try to change their appearance to attract others, Angelou points out what she possesses naturally.  She is beyond comparison.  Her charm doesn’t come from her external appearance but from her internal nature.

Stanza Three

“Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

The two lines third stanza emphasizes the whole idea of the poet.  She expresses her confidence.  The repetition of the lines describes the tone of the poem.   She blankly tells how she feels when men admire her like honeybees.  Her braveness and confidence increase due to men’s reactions to her.

Stanza Four

“Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

The poet continues in the fourth stanza the men could not find what makes her so special and attractive. The men try so much but they cannot come closer to her.  Her answer is that she is a woman of good calibre. She is an amazing woman with good nature. Even if she says she could prove her inner mystery the men say still could not find it as they focus on her external beauty. Her smile shines as the bright sun and the grace of her style makes her a perfect woman.   “inner Mystery” is nothing but her nature and her self-confidence both conveyed metaphorically.  “Sun of my smile” is comparing her smile to the bright sunshine metaphorically.  The sun is a symbol of energy, she is too energetic like the sunlight.

Stanza five

“Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk really loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”

In this concluding part, the poet conveys that she does not bow her head down. And doesn’t need to shout or jump about, no need to talk in loud voice. When they see her. her pretty and smart looks should make them proud.   She says nothing but the click of her heels and the style of her hair and the need for her care make her special because she is a woman phenomenally she is a confident woman.  She feels proud to walk with her head held high.

Literary Devices

The title gives a jerk to the reader when it says “The Phenomenal Woman”   it immediately conveys the correct message to the readers as it is going to talk about a woman, an amazing extraordinary woman.

The 60 lines poem doesn’t follow any particular form.  Divided into five stanzas and each ends with the same four lines which is a refrain of the poem.

It is a free verse poem with an internal rhyme scheme.

Theme self-acceptance of womanhood, self-confidence, pride and individuality.

The mood of the poem is inspirational and self-confidence reflects throughout the poem.

Satire is used to bring out the accepted norm of beauty by society.

Repetition is “I’m a woman

Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.” Can be seen at the end of each stanza.  She uses repetition to give stress her message.

The first few lines say about the accepted way of beauty and then it gives a contrasting opinion that beauty could not be measured in such a way.

Alliteration “stride and step” “hive of honey bees”

Metaphor is used in “hive of bees and fire in my eyes” to show the attitude of men and the power of women.

Visual imagery is    “It’s the fire in my eyes,

And the flash of my teeth,

The swing in my waist,

And the joy in my feet”

Hyperbole – The fellows stand or

Fall down on their knees.

Then they swarm around me,

A hive of honey bees.”

Internal rhyme – “cute and suit”

Sound imagery is “the click of my heels.  The bend of my hair, the palm of my hand”

The setting is nowhere to be seen. A great message could be conveyed without any disturbance.

The background of the poem is the total racism, sexism and oppression of Black People.

Conclusion

Thus the poem conveys the message of self-acceptance and brave, encouragement and inspiration to a society where women are looked down with fewer priorities.  It challenges the men who could not see the real beauty.  The message is well conveyed to society “ beauty doesn’t lie in appearance, it lies in the inner beauty which would be seen or identified through the experience.