Angelou's A Brave and Startling Truth: Theme & Analysis

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: J.R. Hudspeth

Jackie has taught college English and Critical Thinking and has a Master's degree in English Rhetoric and Composition

Maya Angelou wrote the poem 'The Brave and Startling Truth,' which is about a journey to a mysterious destination that the whole human race is traveling on. Where is this destination, and what truth will we learn?

'A Brave and Startling Truth' Theme

There are two major themes in this poem: the journey and the destination. Maya Angelou talks about three different types of journeys that the human race is traveling on: the journey through the cosmos, the journey through history, and the journey toward a better future. In this journey through the cosmos, we are seemingly alone, living on a tiny rock, spinning through a vast, dark universe. Angelou states:

'We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns.'

Not only are we on a journey through space, we are also on a journey through history. Angelou wants us to think about our civilization, and how we have grown as humans. She speaks of all the wonders that we have built through time, like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the pyramids of Giza, to remind us of our history and how the human race has evolved up to the present day.

The third concept of journey used in the poem is the journey toward a better future. We are traveling through time and space, but where are we going? The title of the poem hints that when we get there, we will learn something amazing: a brave and startling truth that will change us forever.

This ties into the other theme of the poem: destination. Humanity is traveling on this little planet through time and space, towards a destination called 'the day of peacemaking.' On that day, we will be able to look back on history and see that we have always tried to make civilization greater. Humans have built great monuments and collected vast amounts of knowledge. However, the real point of all of this is to come to a day when the whole world declares peace and ends the fighting that keeps us from reaching our true potential. The pyramids, or the Hanging Gardens, or anything else that we create don't make us great, according to Angelou. We are the 'true wonder of this world,' if only we would realize it!

'A Brave and Startling Truth' Analysis

Angelou wrote 'A Brave and Startling Truth' for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, a worldwide organization committed to humanitarian efforts such as peace and ending world hunger. Therefore, it is fitting that Angelou would write a poem about peace to commemorate the institution.

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