“Harlem Hopscotch”- Maya Angelou

Literary Criticism- Harlem Hopscotch by Maya Angelou



          “Harlem Hopscotch”, written by Maya Angelou was first published in 1969. Without deep interpretation of the poem, it may first come off as a child like story, but after being deeply read the poem portrays a sense of struggle from the African American life. They encounter a life of exclusion, race conflict, and a constant conscious of their self-image. The poem reveals a great deal of reality internally and externally while reading through the lines. “Harlem Hopscotch” is a poem that revolves around the overall theme of childhood poverty in an African American society.


       The ideas that are introduced by the speaker include poverty, self-struggle, work and leisure. Maya Angelou relates her thoughts to the game of hopscotch by explaining each rule/step to get from the beginning of the game to the end. The first rule discussed is to hop on one foot through the game, which accounts for the stressed idea of issues involving wealth. Everyone knows the truth about the rich and the poor; even the young have a clear concept of it. “Suspended in the air or both feet on the ground”, http://www.informationfromansers.com , explains the speakers thought process about blacks continuously having to move forward in life. Even in times of anger or sorrow, frustration or struggle, there is no time to stop; the African Americans have to maintain a steady pace. The intense movements that are used during the game of hopscotch compare to the inner feeling of fear or worry, but you must continue the game, or in words of reality, keep moving on. Either crossing the lines of the hopscotch board or keeping each hop inside the lines, must still result in the progression of the game. Not every time do they have recognition for the right aspects, but they will always be punished for the wrong. “The game can be seen as a metaphor of a lifetime”, eNotes.com, therefore the speaker finds herself as a winner even though she may sometimes lose the game. Each hop is a step through life, either a tough step or an easy one, but whichever step it ends up being, one must continue to hop their way through. “Harlem Hopscotch” is a powerful poem the expresses the poverty, struggles, wealth, and work life of the African American decent.

          The speaker does not speak of any specific individuals; instead she speaks for the whole group of African Americans, young, old, smart, powerful or weak.


       The poem is mainly directed toward the African American children growing up in a city who face the conflict of race, struggle with wealth, and self-image. The name “Harlem” comes from the famous poor black community in which these young African Americans are living. The children are playing an easy game of hopscotch, yet this game is being compared to the struggling life of the African Americans, which creates a sense of humor. However, these children are showing their strength through realizing and accepting their everyday challenges the must overcome in order to proceed to the next day.

“Harlem Hopscotch” adds a whole different meaning behind the actual game of hopscotch, being that fact that this game is being played in a community full of poverty. Usually when one plays a game, in this case hopscotch, it can almost always be associated with fun. However, in this scenario the game is to teach the children a lesson of the rough times in life, letting them know not to expect good things. Comparing poverty and struggle to a game of hopscotch emphasizes the real meaning of poverty in the sense that a game of hopscotch is looked at with complete innocence, according to Sparknotes.com. Racism is tied into the poem because of the fact that the game the children are playing takes place in an extremely poor black community, Harlem. “Since you black, don’t stick around”, line 6 from the poem, exemplifies racism because the whole point of the game is to move forward, and this line commands the question of who should move or not. There are many different ways to interpret the theme, and many different ways to state what the theme is. The overall theme that is clearly expressed is childhood poverty, struggle, wealth, work and leisure in the African American culture.


                All of Maya Angelou’s poems contain a certain power. In “Harlem Hopscotch”, she expresses that life itself is a brutal game of hopscotch, with many fearful, yet hopeful leaps, and praying you’ll reach the end still standing on your two feet. Life is too crazy to pause and take a break; it is a constant process of moving forward. I feel that this poem was very powerful with a lot of deep meaning behind every word. You had to really read into it in order to fully understand the meaning behind it all. I love how she relates the African American everyday life struggle to a game of hopscotch, I thought that was original. Her poem had me thinking out of the box and deep into the reality of what poverty really is and how hard it may be to deal with it on a regular basis. In a way, this poem opened my eyes. I really enjoyed reading it.



“Harlem Hopscotch- Critical Overview.” www.informationforanswers.com. Answers Corporation 2009. 17 November 2009.

“Harlem Hopscotch, Maya Angelou.” ENotes.com. 2009. Enotes.com Inc. 17 November 2009.

“Harlem Hopscotch.” Sparknotes.com. 2009. Sparnotes LLC. 17 November 2009.


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