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THEY WENT HOME, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


"They Went Home" by Maya Angelou is a poignant poem that speaks volumes about gender dynamics, social expectations, and the transient nature of affection. Through the voice of the female speaker, Angelou explores how women are often praised, yet not fully embraced or understood in relationships.

The poem begins with men returning to their wives, declaring that they have never encountered anyone like the speaker before. This claim is both an affirmation of the speaker's uniqueness and a subtle critique of the men's disingenuousness. For even though they express admiration for her, they still "went home," emphasizing the temporary nature of their attraction or commitment. This powerful yet simple refrain-"But…They went home"-serves as a devastating counterpoint to the compliments and appreciations showered on her.

The men in the poem appear to be charmed by the speaker's domestic qualities, her kindness, and the mysterious air she carries. Yet, despite their praises and the time they spend with her, they never commit to anything more than a fleeting experience. The praise becomes hollow, revealing more about the men's attitudes towards relationships than the actual qualities of the woman in question. It suggests that they enjoy her hospitality, her conversation, and her physicality, but they aren't interested-or perhaps aren't permitted by societal norms-in taking things further.

Moreover, the speaker seems to be all too aware of this cycle, presenting her understanding of it almost as a matter-of-fact. This could be read as a commentary on how women are often socially conditioned to be 'perfect'-clean, pleasant, mysterious, yet despite all these desirable traits, they are still not 'chosen' in the way they might hope to be. The men enjoy the 'night' or 'two or three,' but are not looking for a lasting emotional or social connection. This evokes themes of loneliness and the quest for a more genuine, committed relationship, even when one excels in the traditionally 'desirable' traits society often expects of women.

The poem leaves us with an incomplete final line, symbolizing the unfinished business and emotional void that remains. It raises questions about societal expectations for relationships, the roles that men and women are expected to play, and the loneliness that can result from superficial connections. The incomplete ending could be interpreted as an open challenge, a space for the reader to consider what it would mean to not just 'go home,' but to fully recognize and appreciate the complex humanity of another person.

In conclusion, "They Went Home" critically exposes the shallow nature of some relationships and the gendered expectations that can limit emotional intimacy. Angelou brilliantly uses a simple structure and refrain to deliver a powerful message about the complexities of love, commitment, and societal norms.


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