One of the central themes in this poem is that of oppression. The poet speaks of the legacy of oppression, making references to the suffering of black people throughout history. She condemns the oppressors—ostensibly, white people—with great fierceness. She will make her “slave” ancestors proud by rising above their suffering and defying the oppressors.
The story of racial legacy is that of struggle and overcoming. This poem covers both those ideas. The poet talks about the struggle borne out of oppression, as well as the overcoming. Rather than giving up, the poet demonstrates a resilient, defiant spirit. The frequent repetition of “I’ll rise” illustrates he poet’s determination to remain resilient.
The oppression faced by the speaker is linked to the history of racism. The fact that the speaker calls herself a "black ocean" is significant because this is an overt reference to race, showing that the binary between "you" and "I" in the poem is linked to a racial distinction. She condemns racism and speaks about a universal idea—overcoming prejudice of any kind—that transcends geographical boundaries or the color of one’s skin.
Since the speaker is ostensibly female (an extension of the poet herself), one might argue that sexism is another factor driving the speaker’s anger. While much of the figurative language applies to the oppression of black males and females, the stanza which describes the speaker’s “sexiness” and provocative “dancing” implies that she is an empowered female. She condemns the prejudice against her race as well as her sex, and she rebels against any male oppressor by delighting in her sensuality.
Still I Rise Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Still I Rise is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.