An Importance Of Books in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, illustrates a futuristic society in which all books have been deemed illegal to possess. If society allows a small group of individuals to determine what is appropriate to read, Bradbury’s vision of our world may become reality. One of the most frequently challenged books in the United States is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Because of the harsh reality it portrays, Angelou’s memoir is one of the most controversial books parents and teachers still argue about today.
Angelou’s memoir describes her life during the difficult times and explains how she was able to pull through the injustice she experiences. When she was younger, Maya and her younger brother, Bailey, lived with their grandmother after their parents divorced. Later, their father, whom they’ve never met, picks them up to live with their mom, Vivian, and her boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. As an eight-year-old, Maya is raped by Mr. Freeman and he threatens to kill her brother if she tells anyone. Vivian finds out, bringing the case all the way to court. Maya does not admit that she was raped because of the fear of her brother’s death, so instead of being punished by the law, Mr. Freeman is brutally murdered by someone related to Maya. Thinking it’s her fault, she becomes mute, shutting off everyone around her except for Bailey. After moving back with her grandmother, she regains the will to speak after kind, educated woman named Mrs. Flowers teaches her the importance of literature.
Soon after, she begins to experience the realities of racism after working for a white woman who called her by the wrong name just for her own convenience, listening to a white speaker at her eighth grade graduation talk about how black students are only expected to become an athlete or servant, getting insulted and rejected to be treated by a white dentist for her rotten tooth, and hearing that a white man stood over a dead, rotting black man’s body with satisfaction. Worried because of the influences Maya and Bailey might obtain, Mama moves them to California where their mother, Vivian, now lives. Again, they all move to San Francisco, where Vivian marries Daddy Clidell, a positive father figure, whom Maya learns to like through his emphasis of black power. One summer, Maya decides to spend the summer with her father and his girlfriend, Doroles, whom treats Maya very poorly due to her jealousy. Daddy Bailey drives with Maya down to Mexico and has a good time, only to come back drunk and falls asleep in the back seat of the car. Determined, Maya drives them down the mountain with no driving experience but by will alone. Her father does not acknowledge her achievement of driving them all the way to the border which hurts Maya, so the drive back home is uncomfortable. Once they arrive home, Doroles and Daddy Bailey argue about marriage and how Doroles doesn’t want Maya around. Maya slaps Doroles after she insults her mother and is cut by Doroles right before she runs away to protect herself. Daddy Bailey finds Maya and drives her to a friend, but Maya soon runs away downtown because of the belief that he would prefer if she disappears. She finds herself at a junkyard car with a group of teenagers for about a month, but returns to Vivian because of homesickness. This experience matured Maya and she becomes stronger and self-assured. Maya soon becomes the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco and it helps her feel independent and returns back to school. At the age of sixteen, she begins having identity issues and starts to wonder if she is lesbian. To assure herself she wasn’t, she gets a boyfriend and asks to have sex with him. Although she isn’t very pleased of the experience, she finds out she is pregnant a few weeks later, hiding the fact for eight months and even graduating high school without anyone knowing. In the end, she learns to be confident as a mother to her newborn son.
Katherine Chamberlain’s article, “Spotlight on Censorship: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” informs us of the statistics about the controversies of the book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. For instance, when finding that the book at thirty nine public challenges or bans since 1938, she explains, “The majority of complaints were from parents who objected the book’s depiction of sexually explicit scenes, including the rape and molestation suffered by the author as an eight-year-old, but it also has been challenged for being ‘anti-white’ and encouraging homosexuality.” (http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=1495) These reasons illustrate the strong will of parents to hide their children from the negative realities of this world because they’re afraid that it might influence them in an unfavorable way. The world seems to be so against homosexuality and knowledge of good and bad, turning the world into an ignorant place. Furthermore, Angelou’s response to this seems to be very sympathetic, commenting, “I’m always sorry that people ban my books. Many times I’ve been called the most banned. And many times my books are banned by people who never read two sentences. I feel sorry for the young people who never gets to read.” (http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=1495) Maya Angelou implies that people are just being racist towards her book and that young people should be given the opportunity to read her book. Her response is meant to allow people to realize that she is persistent in her belief that her book is an educational and appropriate book, encouraging people all around the world to read her life story and hopefully gain something from it. Katherine Chamberlain shows her stance in the situation by quoting Holbrook Jackson: “Fear of corrupting the mind of the younger generation is the loftiest form of cowardice.”
Leslie Goffe’s article, “Maya Angelou – the most banned author in the US,” discusses the reasons for the hatred Angelou’s memoir receives and the victories the parents and school officials had to ban the book in certain places. For example, after stating that parents in Virginia formed a group to stop young people from reading Maya’s book, Leslie further proved, “And, in Poolesville, Maryland, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was removed from the local high school reading list because, protestors charged, it was ‘likely to corrupt minors.’” (http://newafricanmagazine.com/maya-angelou-banned-author-us/) Athough the book isn’t completely banned, some states managed to convince their state to ban it, using the excuse that it encouraged a variety bad habits. As you can see, the protesters have interpreted the book in a negative way, assuming that Maya was supportive of these habits when all she was writing about was reality. Adults assume that when something is written, it is encouraged, but not all authors in this world agree with the facts they write. However, when hearing all the negative responses, she rejected this “and showed she would not be intimidated or silenced. In a 2013 interview, she said: ‘Let me tell so much truth, I want to tell the truth in my work. The truth will lead me to all.’” (http://newafricanmagazine.com/maya-angelou-banned-author-us/) She simply states that she is not being crafty, but just plain truthful. Her work shows the reality of life and the history of the United States’s society, which can help students learn from. Despite her achievements and recognition of the book, she still has some resentment of her book from the public, which she firmly disagrees with.
Chasitymoody’s review, “50 Banned Books: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” explains her take in the situation and her opinion of the book. For instance, when stating the status, she claims, “The main complaint against it was that it provided ‘encouragement to partake in premarital sex, homosexuality, and use profanity.’ It was also criticized as ‘a lurid tale of sexual perversion.’” (http://www.parentheticalviews.com/?p=46) The book never says that it is a good idea to have sex, to be homosexual, or to use profanity; it just happens. Nevertheless, people take these things in accountable for when they read books, being aware of what children would learn from the book. The main reason why parents want to ban books in the first place is because of their strong opinion on their take of a book. Moreover, after reading the book, Chasitymoody claims, “At 14 my focus was on all of the horrible things that happened to this young and innocent girl. At 30 my focus is on her strength and the uplifting nature of her spirit.” (http://www.parentheticalviews.com/?p=46) As she grew older, she understood the beauty of the way Angelou’s life turned out, even through her difficult journeys. As a reader, she describes how she felt about the book when she was younger and older, showing the importance of how age can be critical when reading a book. The perspective of the book really changes what you learn from the book; with an optimistic mindset, you’ll learn something positive, but with a pessimistic mindset, you’ll only grasp at the negative points.
Maya Angelou’s explicit memories shared in her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, can be deemed inappropriate while to others, it can seem realistic. Although the book contains disturbing content, Maya has only shared the society as it was back in the day. Her book merely shows the reality of the prejudice she experienced as a child and is no different than a history document. Without the book, people will become ignorant to the downside of reality, just like the society in Fahrenheit 451, where they did not care about the war going on and diverted their attention only to their worldly pleasures.
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