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“Woman” the Poem by Nikki Giovanni Research Paper

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The topic of my research is a very sensitive and direct poem by Nikki Giovanni, Woman written in 1978, at the time when the modernity and post modernity were at the merger point and the position of the woman was undergoing remarkable transformation with the new wave of feminism. Nikki Giovanni has penetratingly captured the inferior position of the woman in her poem, where she has portrayed that a woman’s identity is merged with man in her life.

She changes and modifies her role to fit in the man’s world and she surrenders herself to give pleasure and contentment to a man. I propose to take this theme of woman’s identity and evaluate the role of the women in the three very remarkable periods in the history. I analyze the impressions of women’s position in three periods 1970’s, 1980’s and the present age in the context of the American Society.

The identity of the woman has undergone so many tests and trials, until she has realized that her identity and self-worth are not dependant on the man’s image of her. Nikki Giovanni presents the whole history of the society’s development and its values in her poem. (Smith, 24) Gradual development of the woman in the society and her great desire to be a personality during the whole period of historical development is the main theme of Giovanni’s poem.

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The dynamic attitude of the poet is reflected in every stanza where she penetratingly enters the mind of the woman who is trapped in her world dominated by men. She used suitable metaphors and very direct imagery which can make us feel the woman’s desire and want to be identified and recognized. Her strength and clarity of mind regarding her identity are presented through series of struggles which concludes with self realization of her self worth as a woman.

A great variety of cognitive metaphors highlighted in the poem outline a great desire of a woman to be loved and gain respect on the part of a man. Imaginative metaphors make this poem expressive and deep involving disclosing peculiarities of the time when a woman struggled for a place in the society; struggled for being individual and self-dependent. (Daniel, 34)

She wanted to be a blade of grass…

She wanted to be a robin singing…

She wanted to be a woman…

The author strived to show spiritual fight of a miserable woman for her place in the world of men at the time of gender inequalities and underline gradual improvement of her position due to strong character and a great desire to be independent. (Roberts, 156)

The first stanza portrays her as a very delicate and tender blade of grass; a blade of grass needs to be noted as of significance. It is her story as a woman. She wishes to be just a blade of grass in vast stretched fields. He denies her identity and refuses to be dandelion, so that they could be together. The imagery here is of vulnerable women and inattentive men. He is not able to grant her a single minded attention which is all she craves for.

The tone of the poem is lyrical, dramatic, imaginative, emotional and involving. It becomes obvious due to the usage of the great variety of stylistic devices and literary phenomena. Though vulnerable and dependant , the woman does exude the strength of mind of her own, as she pursues her role change to entice the man she loves until she realizes that she has self-worth even without a man.

This attitude of the woman can be very well connected with the period of 1960’s when the new wave of pop culture and feminist movement emerged on the social scene and the old tradition was challenged and transformed with the power of the youth and the energy of the awakened women. This is also very much in harmony with the thinking of the writer who describes in her own words “It’s better to take a chance and be wrong than to be safe and dull,” she said. (Harris, 1990)

The imagery of the bird and the tree and the leaves present the romantic nature of the woman, who is willing to go to any length to win the affection of her man. She does not stop at being the robin on the tree, she continues to be many more things before she realizes that her mission is futile, she can not find her independence by being dependant on men in varying roles to make her complete.

She is complete, but she is complete in her own identity as a woman. She acknowledges her role in the shadow of the man and man in every instance undermines her presence. Giovanni as the spokesperson for the woman has shown us the steps taken by the woman by focusing on the fact that woman is inherently raised in society and reinforced by religion and culture to be dependant on man. She never sees herself other than the man. She constantly engages in activities which would reinforce her harmony with the man. She adapts and engages, and man stays passive in his relationship.

The search to reach that secure place where her identity is not dependent and she is free is the struggle which women have experienced through the whole of the 20th century and we see the results of it on the surface of the religious, political and economic movements of 1980’s. Worldwide women’s rights were recognized in the field of legal and constitutional rights. Women were merging from their traditionally defined roles to become teachers, lawyers, doctors and engineers.

The position of women improved remarkably in 1980’s with wide range of opportunities where they could work hand in hand with the men. Still men retained the superior position. This aspect is very delicately shown in the poem in stanza 2, 3, and 4 where she invariably makes changes to her identity to appease a man who ignores and neglects her. This rejection is vital to her self growth. The new door which woman opened for her independent standing is a considerable change in the American society, which has been captured in a very direct and sensitive portrayal. The content of the poem is presented with mild touch of affection more than weakness.

The sequence of the imagery from the open fields to a tree, to a book and down to a bulb has been varied and still connected. They all project the characteristic of the woman-delicacy, sensitivity, energy, intricacy, depth and transparency. The author managed to use these all epithets of the woman portrayed in her role for winning the affection and attention of her man. The ego of the man is the barrier to this rich experience which he denies as a result of his ignorance and masquerade of being superior and chivalrous.

The period of 1980’s became material drive of the society of baby boomers, already emancipated feminine thinking with both partners engaged in workforce which demanded commitment and cooperation from both as the harmonious ground for family life. The last stanza clearly portrays this attitude of the woman where her self-knowledge and power of independence empower her to accept herself without the shadow of the man. The woman accepts herself as she is. She recognizes her self-worth and her identity as an independent entity. She sees her own image as a power of change with time. It is her power to change and adapt that has led to her self-realization and she is proud of her identity and sure of her status.

The last stanza which points to the empowerment of the woman in her own eyes is the very ground reflecting the present age position of the woman in the 21st century. The field of woman has encompassed variety of areas all open and embracing to tap in her talent. Women have come a long way on the American scene as well as International one with recognition of their rights, their commitments and their career choice.

A woman stands out of men at this period proving her stable position in the society and ability to be self-dependent. (Turner, 62) She is no longer a puppet in the hand of an ignorant and inattentive puppeteer who does not value her worth. She no loner sees herself limited in terms of education, opportunities and career choices. She has almost achieved equal footing with men. She does not have to become a blade of grass, or a robin, or a book or a bulb to find her footing in this universe. She can be who she is and find her own ground.

Nikki Giovanni has used her penetrated and sensitive portrayal with a very adaptive attitude to present the position of women which had undergone transformation in the period between 1960’s and present time. This period in history has shaped the status of the women in America. Women have found their voice of expression. They have earned their status with sacrifice, patience and perseverance.

The usage of figures of speech and the imagery has made the poem very involving and open in communication. The steely determination and the natural imagery found in everyday life establish an easy connection with the reader. Her observations are very general, but her use of words is so skillful that one can really feel the transformation which the woman undergoes in her various roles very closely. Her words are touching and very penetrating. The simplicity of the expression is remarkable. The usage of the metaphors is very appropriate, and adds comparative feeling strengthening her adaptability and flexibility being the tools that really strengthen her faith in her own identity.


The poem beautifully moves from polarities of expression like dependence to independence. The man is shown as irresponsible and inconsiderate, though not brute. He is insensitive to woman’s feelings and fails to recognize her worth as she is trying so hard. This negligence and lack of acceptance force the woman to take responsibility for her own self. This is point of turning in the character of the woman from being dependent to that of independence. Once having had the taste of her own self worth she is free from the bondage of man’s limitations and she soars high to take charge of her life. She embraces her independence and responsibility.

The secret of this transformation is in understanding her responsibility and self worth. Giovanni has touched the tenderness, gentleness of the human heart along with the steely determination in the moment of self realization. Her realization is her strength, which is reflected in her independent identity. Her humble acceptance in simple use of words is the powerful masterstroke of the writer. The last stanza is the culmination of all emotions, the end of the journey and reaching of the goal of a woman’s search for identity.


Giovanni, Nikki. Woman. Harper Perennial Publisher, pp. 96. 1978 Daniel, Jennie.

Works of Nikki Giovanni. University Study, pp. 65. 2001.

Harris, Sally. NIKKIN GIOVANNI. Virginia Tech Magazine. Volume 12, Number 2, 1990.

Smith, Ethel. Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not Quite Poems. West Virginia University, Vol. 38, pp. 122, 2004.

Roberts, Cynthia. Women of Color: A Fight for Change through Literature. pp. 223. NY, 1997.

Turner, Eric. Women in the World History: Rapid Development, Part I, pp. 99. 2003.

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