29 January 2018
A Victory Bigger Than the Ropes
“Champion of the World” is a chapter from a piece called I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. It tells a story of a boxing event and describes what being African American in the early 1900’s was like (Kennedy et al. 104) The nineteenth chapter of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou starts off in a town in Arkansas in the late 1930’s. The African American community is huddled and packed completely in and outside a store the author’s grandmother and uncle owns to stay updated on a current boxing match via the radio. The match features a white contender against the current heavyweight title holder, Joe Louis. Joe Louis, also known as the “Brown Bomber”, was “a hero to black people” in a time where prejudice against people of color was very prevalent (104). Considering this, Louis winning the match and maintaining his heavyweight title would be a prideful and empowering moment for Black men and their families (Angelou 27-28). Maya Angelou in the chapter, “Champion of the World”, tells a short story about listening to a boxing match between a black man and a white man to highlight the thoughts of someone from the black community affected by racial prejudice in a white society at the time.
The writer uses dialogues and quotations to accurately portray how the fight play by play was described and the reactions from around her to every part of it. Before the fight begins and as everyone is settling in, many comments are being made in the store of how confident everyone is in Joe Louis winning this match. “”I ain’t worried about this fight. Joe’s gonna whip that cracker like it’s open season”” someone says (3). The fight, to their dismay, starts with “”A quick jab to the head”” to Louis (6). Louis tries to “”fight his way out”” and he finally pushes his contender away (9). After a bit of back and forth, Louis is cornered again and “”the contender keeps raining the blows on Louis”” despite the referee trying to stop him (15).
When it seems like Louis is losing the round, Angelou anxiously and effectively sheds light on the bigger picture because she gives relatable examples for the reader to understand her sentiment towards the match. She begins her response to Louis’ condition with “My race groaned. It was our people falling” (16). She continues with mentioning the common atrocities that black individuals fear facing to effectively describe how Louis losing represents something bigger: lynching, black women being raped, black boys being “whipped and maimed”, and the white being violent and discriminatory towards the black in many other ways (16). The room gets heavy as everyone pictures Joe Louis losing the heavyweight title. Angelou heavyheartedly compares him losing to the end of the world and being back in slavery (17). She describes the many ways black individuals are characterized and described by racism, “…lower types of human beings. Only a little higher than apes. True that we were stupid and ugly and lazy and dirty and, unlucky and worst of all, that God Himself hated us…” (17). A white man taking away the win from a black man meant one more way that white people will be able to show dominance and strength over black people. The fight gets intense.
Louis acts fast, fights back, and wins! “Champion of the world. A Black boy. Some Black mother’s son. He was the strongest man in the world” (27). Everyone celebrates the victory in and around the store with eating and drinking. Individuals who lived far away chose to stay nearby in the fear of being on a “lonely country road on a night when Joe Louis had proved that we were the strongest people in the world (28).”