character. In the short exerpt from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, entitled, “The Aristocrat,” the association of language and character is made clear. Language is used to express feelings, instill emotions in others, and separate classes of people. Language is a key element in the expression of oneself.
The use of language and tones is what expresses feelings from one individual. During a conversation with Mrs. Flowers, Mrs. Henderson states that she only does what she does sowell with the help of the lord (163). The way she says this shows her faith. It also revealsthe pride she has with her work, deeming it worthy of the creator. Also, when Mrs. Flowers is having a conversation with Marguerite about words, she states, It takes the human voice
to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning (163). This means that the words themselves are important, but not as important as the voice behind them. Words alone contain literal and figurative meanings, but these meanings can be more easily understood with the human understandings of voice tones. Finally, after Mrs. Flowers reads the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities aloud with all the emotions of her spoken words, the only way Marguerite can respond is with a, Yes Ma’am (164). This shows that she is confused. Short phrases in response to long, heart filled elegies display one’s confusion and awe-struck nature.
Language, in terms of both the spoken and written word, has the power to awaken emotions in readers and listeners. For instance, Marguerite mentions that often her mother would refer to Mrs. Flowers with familiar terms such as sister (161) in a way that made her want to hide her face in shame. This is an indication that the way her mother used her language to address others was an embarrassment to Marguerite. This is one emotion associated with how others speak. Later, the narrator mentions how her mother had a tendency to misuse her vowels around Mrs. Flowers in a way that aggravated and actually angered Marguerite (162). This shows that the way her mother talked embued the narrator with anger. Since anger and frustration are the natural companions of embarrassment, it was more than likely that the speaker in this story would feel those accompanying emotions. Finally, after a command by Mrs. Flowers, the narrator says, I couldn’t have refused even if I wanted to. She pronounced my name so nicely. Or more correctly, she spoke each word with such clarity that I was certain a foreigner who didn’t understand English could have
understood her (163). This is in indication of how the narrator is impressed by the oration of Mrs. Flowers. Marguerite sees Mrs. Flowers as a talented word artist who can make a name into a masterpiece.
The way language is used by a group of people is indicative of what class they belong to. This is first illustrated in the work when Marguerite mentions that her mother and Mrs. Flowers were, …alike as sisters, separated only by formal education (162). In this phrase there is the indication that the way they speak is what really makes them different people. The class that receives a formal education is usually the one that speaks in a more eloquent manner than the class that does not. Also, Marguerite mentions, in regards to powhitefolks, …I’m certain that I would have had to hear her spoken to commonly as Bertha, and my image of her would have been shattered like the unmendable Humpty-Dumpty (162). This shows that the terminology used by the dominant race at the time to describe the subservient ones was another indication of which was the more powerful class. The white people, even those less eloquent than Mrs. Flowers, would have the ability to assert their higher standing with such terms.
Language is a separator, an emotional attractor, and an avatar for feelings. Through the written and revised word, one can most eloquently reveal his or her thoughts. Then, through the spoken word, derived from or read directly from the revised written word, one can give structure and emotion to what has been written, thus creating a more powerful experience for the listener who could be the reader.