Composition and Language II
Analysis of “Champion of the World” by Maya Angelou
Champion of the World is all about displaying the way an unfairly oppressed people felt during a period in time. She uses a fight between two men with different colored skin to paint her picture.
This moving narrative is all about captivating the rhythm of a people in time and place. Angelou, in her poetic style, shows her audience into the setting of a country store where a people wait in suspense in hope that a black man can defend his heavyweight championship by beating a white man. To these people, this is more than just a fight. It is the very hope that they are as good, or even better, than those who oppress them.
In order to more fully understand this poem, it is first important to understand her writing process. With Maya Angelou, the rhythm of what she is communicating is important to her. This is how Maya Angelou explains her writing process: “When I start a project, the first thing I do is write down, in long hand, everything I know about the subject, every thought I’ve ever had on it… Then I read it back through, for quite a few days, and find—given that subject—what its rhythm is… …then I try to find out what are the silent points that I must make. And then it begins to take shape… …And then I find the hook. It’s like knitting, where, after you knit a certain amount, there’s one thread that begins to pull. You know, you can see it right along the cloth….” (Aaron 97-98).
When Joe Louis wins this late 1930s fight, Angelou describes the reaction of the people in this little country store. She explains “People drank Coca-Colas like ambrosia and ate candy bars like Christmas” (Aaron 95). For a moment there was total joy in the characters in this story.
Unfortunately, though, the people only celebrate for about an hour, as they all rush home, afraid of being out on the night that Joe Louis had beaten a white man in a time of such horrific prejudices by white people towards African Americans.
Angelou gets both the rhythm and the message perfect in this narration, making this an important work of historic literature. It both tells a story of an important fight and what it meant to the standing room only group people who were listening to it in that little country store on that day so long ago.
There are many definitions of Irony: “Irony… …1. a method of humorous or subtly sarcastic expression in which the intended meaning of the words is the direct opposite of their usual sense… 2 the contrast, as in a play, between what a character thinks the truth is, as revealed in a speech or action, and what the reader knows the truth to be: often dramatic irony 3 a combination of circumstances or a result that is the opposite of what is or might be expected or considered appropriate… 4 a cool, detached attitude of the mind…” (Webster’s 714).
I’d define irony in the case of this story as being that of sarcasm that contrasts with the feeling of victory the people in the story felt in the moment that Joe Louis winning the fight. The irony, here, is that they were in actuality still living in fear of white people who might want to immediately teach them who was in charge during this time in history.
Angelou writes in the last paragraph “It would take an hour or more before the people would leave the store and head for home. Those who lived too far had made arrangements to stay in town. It wouldn’t do for a black man and his family to be caught on a lonely country road on a night when Joe Louis had proven that we were the strongest people in the world” (Aaron 96).
There is no question of irony in this last paragraph. The high contrast between the feeling of victory with living of fear of those who oppress is clearly spelled out in this paragraph.
Angelou makes no mistakes when she knits her masterpieces, as her work is that important.
Aaron, Jane E, Dorothy M. Kennedy and X. J. Kennedy. The Brief Bedford Reader: Tenth Edition.New York: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009.
Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Third Edition.New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc, 1997.