Maya Angelou “The Graduation” and Langston Hughes “One Friday Morning” Analysis

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This paper will compare and contrast both the stories and trace out similarities and differences between the two. Basically, both the stories are in reminiscent mood and bear the nostalgic touches with the connotation of ethnic disparity issue.

In “The Graduation”, Maya Angelou is remembering back to her high school graduation. She recalls the wonder she felt on that day. This way old tradition had carried through over the years. This story takes place in 1941, in a small black community in Stamps, Arkansas. An all black school Lafayette County Training School was by no means as fortunate as the nearby all white schools. It had neither trees nor shrubs; it simply had two buildings on a hill. The local people of the town were not wealthy or educated as the nearby white towns or school. However this community was proud of its children and their accomplishments of graduating. Big ceremonies were planned each year for the graduating classes. The lower grade classes were in charge of helping with the festivities. The lower grade girls were in charge of preparing the refreshments; the small children were putting together a small play. (Spain, 49-62)

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On the other hand, we find that an African American man who grew up in Joplin Missouri also writes this piece of literature in the 1940’s. He talks about an experience that a young black woman faced in her senior year in high school. This story as compared to the story by Maya Angelou is not based on personal experience however is a fictional account of a young black woman growing up in mid-west. The speaker of this story is Nancy Lee a young black woman who has a bit of a different view as Maya Angelou had in her story. This woman is proud of her heritage, born to educate working parents. She is excelling in a white school, she does not feel threatened to by being black and it even explains that sometimes she forgets her color. The other people in her school also do not view her as the colored girl in the school but however view her as just another student, sharing the same experiences that they are facing.

Contrary to this situation, in “The Graduation”, the white man from a nearby town came to speak at the graduation ceremony. This is when the tone of the story changes. Because of this being written in the 1940’s racism and segregation is an active practice. The speaker does not present enthusiasm to the graduating black students, as he would have for the white graduates. Instead he crushes their dreams and reminds them of their place in society. After the speaker quickly finishes his speech and leaves to catch his train, the speaker of the story is crushed. However after she actually listens to the valedictorian give his speech she is reminded of the accomplishments that she has worked for so long.

As far as the past events are concerned, both the stories are identical in theme, whereas in the matter of objectivity and subjectivity, both are different to each other. In “The Graduation” the plot of the story is a wonderful example of these experiences in our lives affects us in later years. (Shapiro, 110) All of us remember these moments so clearly in our later years, the sense of accomplishment, new adventures that face us in the world. In the short essay extracted from the novel “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” written in 1970 by Maya Angelou, Angelou writes about times in her childhood. This story is a wonderful example of when she graduated in 1940. She uses great symbolism. For example she states that the “graduating classes are nobility,” showing that they have earned the respect of the younger classmates. (Shuker, 181-88) She also writes about the graduating class and their “exotic destinations.” This piece is a wonderful example of innocence and experience we all go through as a child transcending from a child to an adult. Angelou also writes about a time where the black community had to overcome great challenges in the 1940’s because if the way society viewed the black community.

While, in the particular event of “One Friday Morning” in which the story is written about is detailing the woman’s win for an artist club scholarship. She learns of this scholarship and is asked to keep it a secret until the weekly assembly. She was planning on going to art school if she is admitted. Her parents are saving to help her go on to higher education. Moments before she is to give her speech and accept her scholarship, she is called to the principles office and learns that she can still get the award however because she is a colored girl she will not receive the scholarship, the judges do not think that it is appropriate that a colored person attends the school. (Bone, 61-65)

The girl is crushed, she was so proud to be a colored person and receive this honor. Now she has doubts that the benefits are not for all. Miss O’Shay the school principal however turns the situation by giving her details of her same prejudice that she faced growing being an Irish woman. How the Irish were also not liked, however through hard work and dedication they persevered and overcame that racism. How the girl will also overcome this and the society will eventually change little by little and how one must never give up on their dream. This character knows the hardships, coming from the south and moving north to the mid-west she was able to see the little change in that. After speaking to the principal she feels better, she knows there will be other awards and knows that she will overcome this and be the bigger person in this upsetting time.

As far as the tone of both the stories is concerned, we find in “The Graduation” that it is the attitude the speaker has towards themselves, their subjects, and their audience. In this case the speaker in this story is the young black girl. In the beginning of the story the black girl speaks with pride and self-confidence. (Loos, 71-92) She thinks very highly of herself when she states, “…I was going to be lovely. A walking model of all the various styles of fine hand sewing and it didn’t worry me that I was only twelve years old and merely graduating from the eighth grade…” The joy in her voice is felt when she stated “…my work alone had awarded me to a top place and I was going to be one of the first called in the graduating ceremonies. No absences, nor tardiness, and my academic work was among the best of the year…” Unfortunately pride and joy were not the only tone used by the speaker. (Lisandrelli, 9-12)

Further more, in the middle of the story we see the girl angry and disappointed at the outcome of her graduation. As I described in the introduction, Mr. Donleavy addressed her graduating class with continuous remarks about the white class. He went on to say that “…the white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileo’s and Madame Curies and Edison’s and Gauguins …” The young girl couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Graduation, hush-hush magic time of frills and gifts and congratulations and diploma, was finished for me before my name was called. The accomplishments were nothing. Donleavy had exposed us …” In this sentence we can actually feel the frustration and anger she felt. At the end of the story we see how her mood changed from being angry to feeling proud of herself and her race once again.

This was the outcome of a poem read by her class valedictorian, Henry Reed. “The word of Patrick Henry had made such an impression on me that I had been able to stretch myself tall and trembling and, I know not what course others may take but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.” In this sentence the young girl feels proud to be black and to be part of the graduating class of 1940. She put aside all the awful remarks made by Mr. Donleavy and rejoiced with the encouraging words given by Henry Reed. She was proud of her race and proud to be graduating due to her full academic accomplishments. The story of “Graduation” was very interesting. It was able to fully demonstrate the literary element of tone. In my opinion, the message in this story is that we should all be proud of who we are, what we do, and where we come from. Pay less attention to what others say or think about you, and worry more about what you think and what you want to accomplish.

On the other hand, in “One Friday Morning”, comparing Nancy’s one day to our every life, we really look at this story and realize today we are all still victims’ discrimination. (Bloom, 171-80) Discrimination today can come in all forms: lack of education, lack of previous job experience or skills. Race was a common factor for Nancy then for almost anything and everything a Minority tried to achieve. (Rampersad, 89-94) We actually take this story One Friday Morning and place to our everyday live, because whatever reason your day comes and you can’t receive the prize for one reason to another. Like Nancy we can all be strong, choose not to give up and look for that brighter future. (Dace, 210-16)

In addition to this, he undertook a difficult task when he sought to communicate the short stories of the blues through written words alone—and with all the advantages that musical, vocal, and gestic art combining. (Harper, 110-18) While singing the blues, these artists, with a stiffening of the back, could suggest historical chain-gang chants to the spell-bound listener; with diverting wrist, torso, or hip movements, they could lessen the potential monotony of the repeated lines; with various facial expressions, they could signal the recall of much of the spiritual beauty, or anguish, of Negro history. (De Santis, 23-27) But the rigid blues pattern, within which vocal artists and instrumentalists were free to evoke and personalize an entire tradition, was a limitation to the writer. To give artistic expression of permanent value to a form demanding simple diction, repetition, and an elementary rhyme scheme raised problems. Examination of a few of his best blues short stories shows Hughes’s contribution of a new short story writing form to our literature.


In both the above stories you can see that in whatever generations we live in we all face similar situations as we are growing from adolescents to adult. We all recall when we were transforming into adults at our graduation. The excitement and anticipation we felt in conquering the world and moving on. Also we have all had that first crush and the desire to please someone so that they will like us. We all remember the hurt and the disappointment we all felt when we were unable to come through on our promise. In the last situation we have all expected to win and have been let down by not winning, or have been disappointed to learn that a promotion was given to someone else who may have or have not deserved that promotion but for one reason or another received the praise and not ourselves. These experiences also transcend time and culture to effect all of us at some point or another in our lives. We as a group enjoyed this project and had fun reminiscing on our own life’s experiences that these in the story have touched.

Works Cited

Angelou, Maya. (2001). Graduation. In S. Barnet, W, Burto, W.E. Cain & M. Stubbs (Eds), Literature for composition: Essays, fiction, poetry, and drama (6th Ed.). (pp 834-841). New York: Longman.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Langston Hughes. New York: Chelsea House, 1989.

Bone, Robert. Down Home: Origins of the Afro-American Short Story. 1975. Rev. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.

Dace, Tish, ed. Langston Hughes: The Contemporary Reviews. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

De Santis, Christopher C. Langston Hughes and the Chicago Defender: Essays on Race, Politics, and Culture, 1942-1962. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995.

Harper, Donna Akiba Sullivan. The Early Simple Stories. Vol. 7. The Complete Works of Langston Hughes. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001.

Hughes, Langston. (2001). One Friday Morning. In S. Barnet, W, Burto, W.E. Cain & M. Stubbs (Eds), Literature for composition: Essays, fiction, poetry, and drama (6th Ed.). (pp 847-852). New York: Longman.

Lisandrelli, Elaine Slivinski. Maya Angelou; More Than a Poet. Springfield, NJ: Enslow, 1996. Pages 9-12. (Portrays her life as author, poet and educator)

Loos, Pamela. Maya Angelou. Introduction by James Scott Brady. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2000.  (Describes the life and writing career of the author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” as well as her victory over such obstacles as prejudice, poverty, and rape.)

Rampersad, Arnold, Ed. The Complete Works of Langston Hughes. Ed. Arnold Rampersad, Dolan Hubbard, Leslie Sanders, and Steven C. Tracy. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001.

Shapiro, Miles. Maya Angelou. With introductory essay by Coretta Scott King. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.  110p. (Discusses her life and work)

Shuker, Nancy. Maya Angelou. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Silver Burdett, 1990. (Focuses on her struggles as a woman, a mother and an artist)

Spain, Valerie. Meet Maya Angelou. New York: Random House, 1994. 49-62 (Her life from a rough childhood to her international recognition as a poet, writer, actress and dancer)

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Maya Angelou “The Graduation” and Langston Hughes “One Friday Morning” Analysis. (2017, Jan 25). Retrieved from

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