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Finishing School

  1. Topic: What is the topic of Angelou’s narrative?

Angelou aims to show the fundamental fragmention of American society along class, racial, and gender lines. She accomplishes this by focusing on the problematic (synonym of dilemma) experiences of young black women, which are taken from her own autobiography. The events in the narrative are therefore not important in themselves, but rather in their symbolization of the inequity in American society along racial, but also gender, lines. Hence, all descriptions in the story, such as the layout of Mrs. Cullinan’s house, are used to show this discrepancy in American society.

  1. Angelou uses a first person narration for this story.
  2. The tone of Angelou’s story is arguably one of disgust. Angelou is appalled by the multi-layered forms of segregation in American society, segregations which she has experienced in her own eyes. Angelou’s disgust is a disgust for the pretenses of American society, with all its talk of democracy, showing instead its class and racial biases. Angelo possesses a certain hatred for the world in which she lives and especially the world of the white female bourgeois (synonym for debutante).

Quoted passage: “For a few seconds it was a tossup over whether I would laugh (imagine being named Hallelujah) or cry (imagine letting some white woman rename you for her convenience). My anger saved me from either outburst.

Theme: The main theme of the narrative is precisely this fragmented society, which Angelou sees as hypocritical and corrupt. She despises the inequality of her surroundings, and also all the details of the lives of those who possess a higher social rank than her female-proletariat (antonym for debutante) status, such as their order of the house. Angelou sees under all this order a primitivism and a hatred, which is only matched by her own hatred for this environment.

Meaning/Message: Angelou’s message is that so long as there is division within society, there will be no solution (antonym to dilemma) hatred and antagonism within society. This division is, however, fundamentally difficult to eliminate, since people by nature are hypocritical and cruel. Based on her experiences, Angelou is a misanthrope.

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