When I Think About Myself, Maya Angelou: Summary & Analysis

"When I Think About Myself" by Maya Angelou is a candid and reflective poem that explores the complexities of the speaker's identity and experiences. Through a combination of humor, irony, and self-awareness, the poem delves into the speaker's personal journey, her interactions with others, and her relationship with her cultural heritage.

When I Think About Myself by Maya Angelou

When I think about myself,
I almost laugh myself to death,
My life has been one great big joke,
A dance that's walked
A song that's spoke,
I laugh so hard I almost choke
When I think about myself.
Sixty years in these folks' world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say 'Yes ma'am' for working's sake.
Too proud to bend
Too poor to break,
I laugh until my stomach ache,
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side,
I laughed so hard I nearly died,
The tales they tell, sound just like lying,
They grow the fruit,
But eat the rind,
I laugh until I start to crying,
When I think about my folks.


"When I Think About Myself" is a reflective poem that employs humor and irony to explore the speaker's identity, experiences, and relationships. The poem navigates through the speaker's life, from her personal experiences to her interactions with others and her connection to her family and cultural heritage.

Critical Analysis

"When I Think About Myself" showcases the speaker's ability to find humor and insight in her life's experiences, even in the face of challenges and complexities.

The poem begins with the speaker almost laughing "myself to death," suggesting that she finds amusement and irony in her own life. The metaphor of life as a "great big joke" and a "dance that's walked" highlights the blend of humor and self-awareness that characterizes the speaker's perspective.

The repetition of the phrase "I laugh" throughout the poem underscores the speaker's resilience and her capacity to find joy and humor in various situations, even when faced with adversity.

The contrast between the child who refers to the speaker as "girl" and the speaker's response of saying "'Yes ma'am' for working's sake" reflects the power dynamics and cultural norms that the speaker navigates. The lines "Too proud to bend / Too poor to break" capture the speaker's determination to retain her dignity despite societal constraints.

The humor in the lines "My folks can make me split my side, / I laughed so hard I nearly died" captures the amusing and sometimes contradictory nature of the stories told by the speaker's family members. The metaphor of "grow the fruit, / But eat the rind" exemplifies the idea that life's challenges and complexities are not always what they seem.

The progression from laughing to "start to crying" at the end of the poem suggests a depth of emotion that arises from contemplating the speaker's family and heritage.

Themes of the Poem

  • Identity and Self-Reflection: The poem delves into the speaker's introspective journey as she contemplates her identity, experiences, and relationships.
  • Humor and Irony: Humor and irony serve as lenses through which the speaker navigates her life's complexities and finds insight.
  • Cultural Heritage: The speaker's interactions with her family and cultural background are explored through the humor and stories shared among her folks.

Stylistic Analysis

  • Repetition: The repeated phrase "I laugh" emphasizes the speaker's ability to find humor and joy in various situations, underscoring her resilient perspective.
  • Metaphorical Language: Metaphors like "dance that's walked" and "grow the fruit, / But eat the rind" add depth and vividness to the speaker's reflections.


  • Humor and Resilience: The speaker's humor and ability to laugh in the face of challenges demonstrate her resilience and positive outlook.
  • Contradictions: The poem portrays the contradictions in the speaker's experiences, as well as the complexity of her emotional responses to her family and heritage.


  • Irony: The poem uses irony to highlight the speaker's observations about her own life and the stories shared by her folks.
  • Metaphors: The metaphors employed in the poem contribute to the vivid imagery and depth of the speaker's reflections.

Sound Devices

  • Rhythm: The rhythm of the poem is engaging, mirroring the dynamic interplay of humor and introspection in the speaker's reflections.

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