Both Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I A Woman?" and Langston Hughes's "Let America Be America Again" discuss the oppression of specific marginalized groups and beg for freedom. One difference between the two is that Truth's poem specifically addresses the oppression of women and African-American women, whereas Hughes's poem addresses the oppression of all marginalized groups besides women.
Truth's poem opens by talking about the special treatment women receive from gentlemen because they are considered the weaker sex, including being "helped into carriages," carried over ditches, lifted over mud puddles, and being given the "best place." The speaker points out, though, that she is not given this much respect even though she, too, is a woman. The speaker's rhetorical question found in the refrain — "And ain't I a woman?" — serves to emphasize the fact that, due to her African descent, the narrator is not treated as having equal status with other women. Her references to inequality serve to protest against the injustices suffered by marginalized African Americans, especially African-American women.
Truth does not focus entirely on the oppression experienced by African-American women. By the seventh stanza, Truth notes the belief held by men over the ages that women are not equal to men:
Then that little man in black there say
a woman can't have as much rights as a man
cause Christ wasn't a woman.
The speaker then continues to point out the logical fallacy of that man's claim. By pointing out how illogical it is that all women are considered unequal to all men, the speaker is also protesting against the marginalization of all women, not just African-American women.
Similarly, when Hughes states, "America never was America to me," the speaker protests against the lack of liberties in America due to the oppression of the marginalized. In one stanza, Hughes sets out to list the marginalized he is acting as the voice of:
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
Since Hughes does not specifically mention women as a marginalized group seeking freedom, it can be said that one difference between his and Truth's poem is that Truth's poem speaks of the oppression of women, whereas Hughes's poem speaks of the oppression of men in other marginalized groups.
I start the class by explaining the rules of engagement for the period. I try to make sure that each and every student understands exactly what is expected and feels confident that he or she is capable of being successful. I tell the students they will be writing an essay that compares and/or contrasts the two texts (Ain't I a Woman and Still I Rise) in response to one of the following prompts:
1- Angelou and Truth both lived in very different times. Do the texts give the impression that a great deal has changed for women in the time that passed between the two? Support your answer using evidence from both texts.
2- Angelou and Truth use two very different styles in order to convey a similar message. Is one approach more effective than another in conveying the message? Justify your position with evidence from both texts.
3- What do Angelou's and Truth's texts say it is to be a woman of color in America during these two different times? Do they appear to agree with one another or not? Justify your claim with evidence from the two texts.
4- A potential theme in both text is that women are capable of doing amazing things and are integral to our society. How do the two texts convey and support this theme?
5- The tone of an author or speaker plays a very important role in the expression of a message. Did Angelou or Truth have the more effective use of tone in her text? Please justify this claim using evidence from both texts.