I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou: Three Stages of Spiritual Revival Essay
“I know why the caged bird sings. Ah, me, when its wings are bruised and its bosom sore”, wrote Paul Laurence Dunbar in his famous poem Sympathy (Dunbar).
Having been written several decades before the Brown v. Board of Education landmark case, Martin Luther King’s speeches and the work of the Civil Rights Movement, this poem became the symbol of African Americans’ spiritual power and aspiration for freedom in all its senses. These lines gave the name to another outstanding work of literature devoted to the rights of African Americans, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Angelou 2002).
The novel is about a “caged bird” Maya, an African American girl in captivity of racial discrimination and her own fears and diffidence.
The events described in the novel are sometimes so shocking that seem almost unbelievable; having got familiarized with the life story of the protagonist Maya, a reader sees that having faced numerous troubles and challenges, the girl did not give up and escaped from the “cage” – her fears, uncertainty and racial prejudices directed at her.
The process of Maya’s spiritual revival included three stages: facing and recognizing the problems, receiving emotional and intellectual support from her environment, and making first independent, resolute steps into the adult life.
Maya’s inner restrictions, fears and low self-esteem were born by the environment she faced during the first years of her life. Does a reader see just a weak, inexperienced girl afraid of the sorrows she is facing?
The situation described by the narrator is much more complicated and terrifying: the life of Maya, the protagonist, is the illustration of position of an African American woman in that took place in the society for centuries – “… A black woman has two strikes against her – being a woman and being born black” (Cordell-Robinson 13). The aggression towards black people combined with disrespect towards women formed a “cage” that seemed impossible to break.
The racial discrimination in the country in 1930’s was merciless: the society was deeply prejudiced towards black people. The terrifying lynch mobs did not allow the girl to remain calm and careless; Maya faced cruelty of the modern world and lost self-confidence. This period in Maya’s life played significant part in her future destiny having created problems she had to overcome for decades: living with her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, Maya faced numerous problems connected with her racial identity.
Being one of the few black people in the region, the girl had to overcome numerous social and emotional restrictions of her spiritual and intellectual growth: needing love and emotional support, she is nevertheless not understood, not respected and discriminated; the girl says, “There was an army of adults, whose motives and movements I just couldn’t understand and who made no effort to understand mine” (Angelou 62).
Maya’s emotional discomfort was aggravated by understanding that her parents had divorced and abandoned her and her older brother having sent them to Annie Henderson, their grandmother.
The pain of rejection is hard to overcome – a three year old girl was unable to get rid of the feeling of guilt for parental divorce. At the same time, Maya was suffering from her own diffidence thinking that she was not beautiful and would never become as pretty and charming as the other girls of her age. During this time, Maya’s low self-esteem progressed and turned into a serious problem.
The attitude of the children of the same age put its imprint: they teased and injured her – their attitude was also a result of the tendencies that existed in the contemporary society. Looking in the mirror, Maya saw an ugly girl and imagined she is a charming white young lady turned into a “too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil” (3).
However, deeply within, the girl possessed incredible strength and desire for spiritual growth. Moreover, a reader may be amazed about how kind and forgiving the heart of the small girl is: being teased by the children around her, Maya does not become hard-hearted and does not dream about revenge, “…They were going to run up to me and say, “…Forgive us, please…”, and I would answer generously, “No, you couldn’t have known.
Of course I forgive you” (Angelou 2). It is possible to say that Maya’s inherent spiritual strength helped her apprehend the life-giving impulse that came from the outside: Maya just needs understanding, compassion and support, and soon she fortunately finds in the person of Miss Flowers whom she communicated simultaneously with living in Stamps, Arkansas.
This period in Maya’s life was considered to be really important for the girl. It is possible to state that the communication with Miss Flowers gave Maya an opportunity to enter the next stage of the formation of her spiritually strong personality. This woman showed Maya that there was nothing wrong with her race, that it was possible to be black and enjoy the life.
Miss Flowers demonstrated that she could enjoy what she was doing. Having given Maya a piece of advice to read aloud was a good idea. Reading in this way helped Maya to regain her voice which she had lost as a post-trauma effect of being sexually abused by Mr. Freeman. Reading helped the girl stop thinking about that terrible event, return to the reality and continue living. Thus, reading aloud brought the “caged bird’s” voice back literally and in a figurative sense.
Another important step towards Maya’s spiritual renaissance was attendance of the Church revival where the preacher’s sermons gave her an opportunity to comprehend the situation in the society and interpret the challenges she faced from the new perspective. Listening to the sermons against white hypocrisy was a good chance for Maya to understand that the problem of racial discrimination bothered many people, that her attitude toward whites was shared among other black people in the society.
Particularly, she had an opportunity to change her opinion about white people whom she considered to be better than herself, learn about their negative traits and see that many of their “virtues” are illusive: she was able to understand that being white did not mean being a good person, it just meant that one could have more rights. The sermons gave a girl spiritual strength and inspiration demonstrating that she was not alone and that there were people who understood her feelings.
This period of Maya’s life brought her understanding of racial discrimination as injustice in the world. She realized that high self-esteem is possible even for a black girl. It is important to understand that the “crucial point” in Maya’s life described in the novel is also not isolated from the social tendencies of those years: “the ice” has been “broken”, and the African American community found its voices, the strong and spirited people who would be able to change the status quo.
These voices turn out to be powerful enough to awaken those who were “encaged” and equated life with suffering and misery. At the end of the novel, we see the Maya as a “bird” that has broken out of her cage and is enjoying her freedom.
Having passed two stages on the way to selfhood and maturation, which were recognizing a problem and getting support from the outside, Maya was ready to face the third stage, which is becoming independent and self-confident, and step into a new life free of her juvenile problems. However, she needed to be pushed to become strong and independent, and the life with her father gave her the necessary push.
Having come to her farther, Maya expected to live a happy life in a loving family, but his attitude was absolutely opposite to the girl’s expectations. Cruel indifference was the only emotion the father “bestowed” Maya with, and the attitude of the father’s new wife was the same. Tension and hatred were two feelings that Maya met in her new family.
A fight with Dolores, the father’s wife, was the event which had broken the camel’s back, and Maya left home. Living with homeless children in junkyard, she had to do her best to survive and to cope with the new challenges she faced. However, Maya understood that she was much stronger than she thought; her character became tough, and her spirit was strong.
If seeing Maya in the street at that period, it was impossible to recognize the small girl she was several years ago when her parents divorced. Maya was inspired with the desired freedom she at last got, and the “bird” who escaped was not afraid of demonstrating her voice any more: as a result, Maya became the first black streetcar conductor at the age of fifteen, made an independent decision about giving birth to her child.
“Under the tent of blanket… the baby slept touching my side” (Angelou 246), the reader sees the words of not a girl afraid of the world around her, but of a young responsible woman who has overgrown her fears, knows the sense of her life and is ready to take the next step.
“But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing” (Angelou 2011), looking at Maya’s life and the stages of the formation of her personality, a reader can understand the meaning of her poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. These words are the main explanation for why Maya had became who she was: within her soul, she did not lose her ability to “sing”.
She could either accept the situation and give up, or struggle for her independence and selfhood. She chose the second option: Maya managed to turn into a strong personality by means of coming through three stages of maturation, which are recognizing the problem, accepting the spiritual support from the outside, and formation of spiritually strong personality.
It is important to not underestimate Maya’s environment that significantly influenced the course of her life and her perception of herself: the society surrounding the girl encaged her, but later in the person of Miss Flowers and the preacher, it helped her break the vicious circle and find the way out. Their attitude and beliefs, as well as Maya’s desire to become herself, helped her turn into a powerful woman and tell the whole world her story.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (novel). New York: Random House, 2002. Print.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (poem). PoemHunter.com. 1969. Web. <https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/i-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings>.
Cordell-Robinson, Shirley J. “The Black Woman: A Focus on “Strength of Character” in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Maya Angelou’s I Know Why he Caged Bird Sings. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2009. 13016. Print.
Dunbar, Paul Laurence. Sympathy. Web. <https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/sympathy/>.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou Essay
Maya Angelou’s novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings recounts the hardship and traumatic ordeals that she encountered growing up black, female and orphaned in the southern United States in the 1930s.
Though classified as an autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings stands rather as a historical record of American racial tyranny at a time when the Jim Crow segregation laws were in full effect. The novel harkens back to a time when the black community in the United States suffered brutal economic and social suppression, violence with no access to legal recourse, minimal access to basic education and human rights, and limited access to health care.
This essay highlights one event in the novel related to the struggles faced by Maya and her family in regards to health care, wherein the town dentist Dr. Lincoln refuses to treat Maya’s toothache on the basis of her skin color. Maya’s solution to the racist treatment she and her grandmother receive at the hands of Dr. Lincoln is to fabricate an imaginary revenge scenario in which the dentist comes under the power of the grandmother.
Maya’s understanding of the racist attitudes of the town dentist renders shock when she discovers that her grandmother intends to take her to him. Maya expresses surprise when she learns that her grandmother intends to take her to the white dentist for treatment, as evidenced by the following quote: “Momma said we’d go to Dr. Lincoln, right in Stamps, and he’s take care of me. She said he owed her a favor” (Angelou 186).
Maya’s sense of what medical care was available to her as a black child has already been ingrained in her – she expresses no surprise when her grandmother urges her to change into clean clothes to prepare for the visit. “I had never been to a doctor, so she told me that after the bath…I had to put on freshly starched and ironed underclothes from inside out” (Angelou 186).
Even though Maya knows that her grandmother regularly lends money to whites in the community, she still doesn’t expect to be seen by the dentist. “I knew that there were a number of whitefolks in town that owed her favors. Bailey and I had seen the books which showed how she lent money to Blacks and whites alike during the Depression, and most still owed her…but I [never] heard of a of a Negro’s going to him as a patient” (Angelou 186).
Maya’s solution to the challenge of the racist dentist’s harsh refusal to treat Maya is to create a revenge fantasy wherein her grandmother claims the position of power. When the dentist’s assistant closes the door in her grandmother’s face, Maya experiences a familiar sense of humiliation. “Momma knocked on the back door and a young white girl opened it to show surprise at seeing us there…Momma said she wanted to see Dentist Lincoln and to tell him Annie was there. The girl closed the door firmly” (Angelou 187).
To solve the problem of the racist dentist who rejects Maya with the cutting remark that he would rather put his hand in a dog’s mouth than in the mouth of a black child, Maya conjures a fantasy wherein the Momma and the Dentist exchange power roles and the dentist becomes obsequious.
“You knave, do you think you acted like a gentleman, speaking to me like that in front of my granddaughter? She didn’t shake him, although she had the power…No, ma’am Mrs. Henderson ” (Angelou 190).
Maya rationalizes her grandmother’s acceptance of the racist treatment with the following: “I didn’t ask you to apologize in front of Marguerite, because I don’t want her to know my power, but I order you, now and herewith.
Leave Stamps by sundown.” (Angelou 190). Finally, Maya invests her grandmother with an elevated command of language to show her dominance over the dentist. “Her tongue had thinned and the words rolled off well enunciated. Enunciated and sharp like little claps of thunder…She could afford to slip into the vernacular because she had such an eloquent command of English” (Angelou 190).
Maya’s comprehension of how her grandmother dealt with the situation in reality offers her less emotional satisfaction that the fantasy. Maya hears her grandmother explaining to Uncle Willie that what really happened with the dentist was simply that she called in her loan: “If you paid me my money I could afford to take her…Even though by rights he was paid up before, I figger, he gonna be that kind of nasty, he gonna have to pay for it… Momma and her son laughed over the white man evilness and he retributive sin. I preferred, much preferred, my version” (Angelou 193).
Maya’s solution to the racist treatment she and her grandmother receive at the hands of Stamps dentist Dr. Lincoln, a man indebted to her grandmother’s innate sense of Christian charity, is to manufacture an elaborate imaginary revenge scenario wherein the dentist comes under the thrall of the magical grandmother. However, in reality Maya is disappointed by the grandmother’s tactic, without realizing that the grandmother compromised her Christian principles in order to get proper health care for her charge.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1969. Print.
“I know why the caged bird sings” by Maya Angelou Essay
Maya Angelou: Facts from Biography
In this essay, I make a research of the life of Maya Angelou. I aim to find out why she could relate to a theme of a caged bird in many of her poems. From my understanding of her autobiography, Maya had a difficult childhood which may have intrigued her to write the poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Maya Angelou was born on the 4th April 1928. She had to live with her grandmother after her mother and father divorced.
It is during this time that she encountered the difficulties in her life that shaped her to be the great woman she is today. She was sexually abused at the age of eight by her mother’s lover. This fact devastated Maya for five years. She did not speak to anyone after her uncles killed the man who raped her.
Maya believed that she had caused the death of the man and felt guilty about the whole incidence, her reasoning being that had she not told revealed the identity of her rapist, he would be alive. Her life is full of challenges for, at the age of sixteen years, she gave birth to her son Guy, and she started trending down the life of single parenthood.
Though, later on, she was married, it did not last long. However, her passion for writing did not die with her difficulties. She pressed on amid the difficulties to even receive great awards. The Angelou’s childhood experience her life in general. The poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” published in 1983 is also a reflection of it.
The Message of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
I choose to analyze the poem from two perspectives that are; a poem denoting the life of Maya through the ups and downs of her life and from a bird’s eye view, a poem describing the life of the black Americans in the 1930s (Angelou).
From a political understanding; Maya uses the symbolism of the caged bird to depict the oppression that the blacks were under in the 1930s. She talks of a caged bird that sings (Angelou), which can be interpreted as the freedom the blacks in American. This is probably the main message of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Analysis made by the historians shows that racial discrimination haunted the black man in America at around that time. The black man was seeing what was happening all around, more especially when the comparison is made on the life within the cage and that one outside it.
The mere fact that the caged bird wishes to escape from the cage indicates that the blacks also wanted to live as equals with the whites (Angelou). The societal prejudices are the cage in which the black and the white are enslaved. Angelou wishes that these social prejudices that jeopardize peaceful coexistence be the cage that should be removed to promote peace and liberty (Angelou).
The poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou can also be used in the context of the struggles of the African American at the time when they were forced into slavery (Angelou). They were working in the whites plantations where they used to sing their traditional tribal songs.
These songs were a means of solace and a way of seeking comfort from their hardships. It is possible therefore to think that the “caged bird” denotes the Africans during that advent of slavery (Angelou), some of the songs sung at that time are present in the form of Jazz music which is listened to by the people of this generation (Angelou).
One can, therefore, not be mistaken to look at it from this perspective. Angelou, in the last stanza, says, “but longed for and still and his tune is heard on a distance hill’. That could be a pointer to the advent of the civil rights movement that emerged to advocate for the liberation of the blacks. The songs were a way of comforting themselves as well as uniting them
In the first place, why is the caged bird singing (Angelou)? It is singing a song filled with hope that it is going to be heard by the concerned parties so that it can be rescued from the cage. Songs, as a means of communication, are used to pass information faster than just standing up and lecturing about what you want. Songs are sweet and easy to receive and sink in into the minds of a people so that they digest them. The caged bird sings. He is optimistic that his message is going to be taken in by many people (Angelou).
That his music is going to be appealing to its fellow bird that is caged. To those who have confined them to the cage, and those other birds that are outside the cage. This, therefore, symbolizes the fact that so much has been taken away from the black people; their voices sure cannot be taken away and therefore will continue to seek justice and freedom through their songs, songs of freedom (Angelou).
From a different perspective of the poem, the author has used the caged bird as a symbol of the struggles she went through in her early childhood (Angelou).
The poem shows that a part of Maya as an individual is caged and hidden. Her feelings are deep inside her; she is determined to bring them out. The lack of freedom that is necessary for her to speak out her mind, that is when she gets to sing of freedom, she is set to achieve that freedom first. That is when she seeks her tool of expression, that is literature and specifically poetry.
Through poetry, she can seek the freedom and justice she needs. The injustices were done to her (Angelou), that is the rape ordeal, makes her keep quiet because her uncles killed the rapist. That is so torturous to her such that she has to think that she is the reason as to why the man was dead. She remained caged in her mind and conscience such that she does not mingle freely with society (Angelou).
Though later on, she opens up to society, a part of her had been negatively dealt with, she becomes a mother at a very tender age, and this renders her a single mother, she goes through the hardships of raising her son single-handedly and very young. That notwithstanding, she raises against all the odds to become a respectable member of society. She, therefore, can be thought of as the free bird that was able to sour through all problems.
The class and caste system of the South serves as the background upon which Angelou derives the inspiration to write the poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. Analysis shows that the caged bird can best describe the blacks, and the free bird can befit the whites in the American context, which inspires the composition of this poem. The caged bird is enclosed in the ‘bars of rage (Angelou)’.
This indicates that it has got no freedom of movement and therefore, its life is in the cage and nowhere else. ‘His wings are clipped, and his feet are tied (Angelou)’, the bird cannot even fly or move. This shows how much the bird’s hopes of freedom are thwarted and its only tool of expressing its feelings is its voice which cannot be stopped by its captors (Angelou).
That is why it resolves to sing its heart out for someone to hear it and therefore rescue it from its problems. This poem points to the enslavement of the black people who wish for the freedom to come and save their dashed hopes of a better life. The bars used to tie the bird down signify the superior white class.
Racial discrimination is deeply engraved in the American context, the free bird is free to do whatever it pleases, and it can swim downstream until the end of the current. It has got the freedom denied the caged bird. The free bird is seen to possess a positive attitude towards life; that is why it is portrayed as a daredevil that can fly high and even reach the sun.
Whenever a bird is free, it has got the freedom to fly wherever it wishes. Whatever it pleases, when it has all its independence, it has room to eat whatever it wants whenever it does all that it can do without fear of being reprimanded. That is the kind of world that Angelou advocates for.
That is the world that exists in her poetic life, a world where the caged bird is caged no more (Angelou), that it can move about freely and relate with the free bird. The free bird, on the other hand, has to be accommodative of the caged bird so that they both sing a uniformed song, that song of freedom.
The line-by-line analysis shows that metaphor, alliteration and imagery are the main literary devices used by the author to raise strong emotions in the readers. In the last stanza of the Maya Angelou’s poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, we see how the dream of freedom is just but dead, ‘the caged bird stands on the grave of dreams’. This puts it clear that the caged bird has got no courage to accomplish the dreams that it has; this could be because of a lack of courage. To summarize, it could indeed mean that its freedom is not going to come by and that it will never be accomplished.
This essay is a research of Maya Angelou’s life. It aims to find out why she could relate to an image of a caged bird in many of her poems. In the mainstream American context, people from all walks of life have to be accommodated into this diverse community; skin colour should, therefore, not the reason why one should be mistreated (Angelou). Racial segregation should be a thing of the past; all people should relate freely (Angelou); they should understand each other and accommodate each other in all aspects of life. The fat worms could be a representative of the hope and opportunity for the free bird, but these need to be shared with the enslaved one. In summary, this protest against racial discrimination is the main theme and message of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”.
Angelou, Maya. “I Know the Caged Bird Sings”. PoemHunter.com. 3rd March, 2011.
Maya Angelou’s Journey towards Acceptance of Self Research Paper
Ever since the publishing of Maya Angelou’s autobiographical novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in 1969, literary critics never ceased pointing out to the fact that novel’s themes and motifs are being concerned with the process of a main character striving to attain the sense of self-identity. Nevertheless, this did not prevent them from discussing the qualitative essence of this process from a variety of different perspectives.
For example, in her article Arensberg (1976) refers to the subtleties of how Maya went about attaining existential identity as such that have been in the state of constant transition: “The unsettled life Angelou writes of in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings suggests a sense of self as perpetually in the process of becoming, of dying and being reborn, in all its ramifications” (277). In its turn, this implies that Maya’s perception of herself never ceased being the subject of continuous transformation.
On the other hand, while suggesting that Maya did succeed with gaining solid sense existential self-awareness, Walker (1995) refers to it as something that came to being as the result of novel main character’s spatially defined intellectual evolvement: “By the end of the book… she [Maya] no longer feels inferior, knows who she is, and knows that she can respond to racism in ways that preserve her dignity and her life, liberty, and property” (103).
In this paper, I will aim to confirm the soundness of namely Walker’s suggestion, while pointing out to the fact that, by the end of Angelou’s novel, Maya did not only become fully self-aware individual, but that such her self-awareness came as the result of novel’s main character having learned how to accept her inborn affiliation with the Black race.
The discussion of earlier mentioned process in regards to three events, described in the novel
As novel’s context implies, throughout the early phases of her life, Maya has been experiencing a number of psychological anxieties, due to the sheer extent of her physical unattractiveness. Moreover, there were clearly defined racial undertones to Maya’s emotional uncomfortableness with who she was: “Wouldn’t they be surprised when one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass that Momma wouldn’t let me straighten?” (2).
And yet, as novel’s plot unraveled, Maya was gradually freeing herself of these anxieties. I believe that the following three events, described in the novel, contributed rather substantially towards helping Maya to learn how to take pride in her blackness.
The conversation that took place between Maya and uncle Tommy
In Chapter 10, Angelou refers to the conversation that took place between Maya and uncle Tommy. While sensing that the young girl lacked self-confidence, uncle Tommy did his best to assure her that good looks is not something that solely defines one’s chances to attain social prominence: “Ritie, don’t worry ’cause you ain’t pretty.
Plenty pretty women I seen digging ditches or worse. You smart. I swear to God, I rather you have a good mind than a cute behind” (68). It is needless to mention, of course, that such uncle Tommy’s remark did help Maya to accept who she was. After all, prior to having socialized with uncle Tommy, Maya used to suffer a great deal, on the account of her ugliness.
And, as the context of further chapters implies, uncle Tommy’s words did have an effect on Maya, as she was becoming progressively less disturbed with her physical appearance. In the article, from which we have already quoted, Arensberg states: “Shuttled between temporary homes and transient allegiances, Maya necessarily develops a stoic flexibility that becomes not only her ‘shield,’ but, more importantly, her characteristic means of dealing with the world” (274).
Thus, it will not be much of an exaggeration, to suggest that Maya’s socialization with uncle Tommy represents a crucial point in the process of novel’s main character being set on the path of self-actualization through acceptance.
Maya’s encounter with Mrs. Flowers
In Chapter 15, readers get to meet Mrs. Flowers, whose influence on Maya never ceased being utterly beneficial, it is was namely due to being exposed to the sheer extent of this character’s sophistication that Maya was slowly learning how to take pride in her racial affiliation: “She [Mrs. Flowers] appealed to me because she was like people I had never met personally.
Like women in English novels who walked the moors (whatever they were) with their loyal dogs racing at a respectful distance… It would be safe to say that she made me proud to be Negro, just by being herself” (95).
It was specifically after having met Mrs. Flowers that Maya acquired taste for learning, as this intellectually sophisticate Black woman never ceased encouraging Maya to read: “She said she was going to give me some books and that I not only must read them, I must read them aloud” (98).
After having been prompted to indulge in reading by Mrs. Flowers, Maya started to realize that her blackness was not something to be ashamed of. In its turn, this facilitated the process of novel’s main character learning how to accept her racially defined sense of self-identity even further.
Maya’s exposal to Mrs. Cullinan’s subtle racism
Chapter 16, contains description of another event, the exposure to which had increased the strength of Maya’s resolution to accept her racial self-identity – namely, the conversation between Miss Glory and Mrs. Cullinan, during the course of which Mrs. Cullinan refused referring to Maya by her real name Marguerite and instead, suggested that the name Mary suits Maya so much better: “Well, that may be, but the name’s [Margarete] too long. I’d never bother myself. I’d call her Mary if I was you” (107).
And, as it appears from what happened to be Maya’s emotional reaction to Mrs. Cullinan’s suggestion, she thought of it as being utterly insulting: “I fumed into the kitchen. That horrible woman would never have the chance to call me Mary because if I was starving I’d never work for her” (107). By expressing her contempt with Mrs. Cullinan’s subtly defined racism, sublimated in White woman’s willingness to degrade Blacks linguistically, Maya had once again confirmed the fact that she was firmly set on the path of racial self-acceptance.
Apparently, Maya was able to recognize the name Mary as being connotative of ‘whiteness’, which is exactly the reason why she refused to be called by this name – after having accepted her blackness as the integral part of her self-identity, Maya could never bring herself back to trying to be just like Whites.
I think that the earlier mentioned events do provide readers with the insight on what accounted for the actual subtleties of Maya’s journey towards self-acceptance.
Given the fact that Angelou describes this journey as rather linearly defined, it substantiates the validity of paper’s initial thesis – while being continuously exposed to a number of life’s challenges, Maya was slowly learning that her self-identity could not be discussed outside of what happened to be the particulars of her racial affiliation. And, it is specifically after novel’s main character had accepted this fact cognitively, that she was able to attain emotional comfortableness with her newly acquired sense of individuality.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Bantam Books, 1997 .
Arensberg, Liliane “Death as Metaphor of Self in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” CLA Journal 20.2 (1976): 273-91.
Walker, Pierre “Racial Protest, Identity, Words and Form in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” College Literature 22.3 (1995): 91-109.
Skewed Perceptions in Maya Angelou’s Novel “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” Essay
Maya Angelou’s novel presents the events of her life as a young African-American woman. Although these events are factual, her description and interpretation of certain characters-even herself- may not be entirely accurate portrayals of people her characters represent.
Therefore, Angelou often depicts herself and other people either more critically or more leniently than an outside source might. Arguably, the author presents skewed perceptions because all the aspects of the people displayed in the novel are in accordance with her perceptions rather than the reality or other people’s point of view.
Literal analysis Skewed perceptions
Examples of this skewed perception are observed in the author’s presentation of Maya and Mr. Freeman. Certain scenes with Maya’s grandmother, Momma, are also slanted according to situation. Being so close to the topic, Angelou becomes an unreliable narrator, not because she lies, but because she can only tell the truth as she sees it. In this manner of narration, point of view portrays characters in skewed ways- harsh, lenient, and inconsistent.
Angelou’s narrative readily takes on the critical self-evaluation of children. For instance, she is quick to point out her faults. Angelou takes particular care to recognize her gangly early years. She describes herself as always being too tall, too thin, with hair that manages to be more unreasonable than most (Angelou 2). Early on, Maya imagines herself waking “out of my black ugly dream” (2) and shaking off all signs of her heritage, effectively turning into the classic American standard of beauty: blond hair, blue eyes (2).
This harsh assessment is a testament to growing up in the America during the first half of the nineteenth century; Angelou might be predisposed at a young age to resent her and to admire the lighter aspects of beauty, because in minimizing the humanity of her race, society makes it seem ugly to a young girl. Later, when she is struggling with her place as a woman, not as an African-American, she admires the curves and the breasts of friend who sleeps over with her (she even interprets her envy as lesbianism at one point) (237).
Her brother, Bailey, has “velvet black skin” and “black curls” instead of “steel wool” (17). She has a “blindingly handsome” (45) father and a mother who looks like, but is prettier than, a movie star of their era (99). Besides feel inadequately beautiful in the presence of her family, it is true that part of her self-image comes from others in her town.
Another narrator may see her as budding, the girl who fell in love with Shakespeare (11), who was thoughtful to a fault, and had something to say to the world, not just something to show the world. Later, in another instance of decidedly brutal judgment, Maya encountered Mr. Freeman and went so far as to question her character (71); she wrongly reverses the role of victim to a man who does not deserve it.
With strong feelings of guilt and shame, Angelou’s narration is surprisingly gentle on the figure of Mr. Freeman. Mr. Freeman was introduced to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by a seven-year-old with no pre-conceptions of him. She called him a “big brown bear” (59) and remarked on his devotion to her mother: “He simply waited for Mother and put his whole self into the waiting” (59). Presented as such, he seemed like a good man-dull but nice.
She revealed that, “He held me so softly that I wished he wouldn’t ever let me go” (61). Even when Mr. Freeman faced jail time, and everyone around her knew what he did was wrong, Maya felt guilty for having promoted the act by feeling loved in his arms (61). When he died, Maya felt that she killed him; she recalls, “He was gone, and a man was dead because I lied” (72).
Another character, Momma, left varying impressions throughout the novel, depending on the time and the person who was present. Even though a white judge mistakenly flattered her, the “powhitetrash children” called Momma by her first name, Annie (22).
Maya admonished them in her narrative by asking, “Who owned the land they lived on? Who forgot more than they would ever learn?” In a quiet way, Maya realized her grandmother achieved a victory- she was happy. It did not matter that a few poor white kids tried to disrespect her. Talking to the woman who introduced Maya to new novels and modes of expression, Momma’s colloquialism became blatant, blaring and shameful. She used “is” instead of “are” to refer to a plural set of people, and Maya is mortally embarrassed.
In front of the “powhitetrash”, Momma seems stoic and impervious; next to Mrs. Flowers, Momma was a woman looking for approval. Finally, when the injustices of their community escalated, Momma reverted to her colossal status as one of the strongest women in Maya’s world. Dr. Lincoln refused to treat Maya; he even insulted the granddaughter and grandmother when they go to see him by reputing that he would rather treat a dog than an African American (160).
From Maya’s point of view, Momma grew to be then feet tall with eight-foot arms, and she forces Dr. Lincoln to leave town (162). Momma served Maya’s impulse to combat the doctor’s racism; she imagined Momma storming in the doctor’s office and revealing her true powers to the man (162).
From an in-depth analysis of the autobiography, it is evident that the author’s point of view does not necessarily reflect the reality because she describes her society and her problems based on her own perceptions. Therefore, it is quite accurate to argue that Maya Angelous presents skewed perceptions because all the aspects of the people displayed in the novel are in accordance with her perceptions rather than the reality or other people’s point of view.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Birds Sings. New York: Random House, Inc. 1970. Print.
Maya Angelou I Know why the Caged Bird Sings Essay (Critical Writing)
Child psychology constitutes one of the widely researched topics in psychology. This faculty addresses much on the subject of mind and the mode of child development right from the prenatal stage to the adolescent stage. Many psychologists agree on the fact that development of child psychology presents itself as a unique and complex process.
However, they differ in the nature of uniqueness especially on perceptions of whether the early developments are functions of the experience of the early stages of development. A mention of the term development would probably force a person to think of genetic and phenotypic traits that control the personal characteristics.
However, even though this forms the foundation upon which the development of an individual stands, other factors also come into play such as culture, environment and or social relationships. From a psychological perspective, cognitive development focuses on internal states of mind entangling, decision-making processes, thinking and attentions.
In particular, cognitive psychology addresses key concerns within an individual such as intelligence, problem-solving skills while not negating the capacity to withhold memory of radical life encounters. On the other hand, social psychology considers an individual’s social behaviors in-group interactions. It also addresses influences of the social groups in the decision-making process showing how individuals interact with one another.
Maya Angelou’s masterpiece I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings provides an excellent illustration of the afore-given expositions. From Angelou’s journey of life, as brought out in the mastery, the reader stands a chance to see the different developmental stages that range from physical, cognitive and social.
Angelou’s Physical Development
I Know why Caged Bird Sings forms one of the volumes of Maya Angelou, autobiographies amongst the existing list of five. The book recounts on the life of the author from as early as 1930’s until her age of 16 years. Her books examine themes of motherhood, family and self-discovery.
Through the deployment of various language stylistic devices such as fiction, the author unveils that the psychological development process in her life. Considering the age bracket the autobiography considers, it is crucial to scrutinize the various aspects of psychological development of the author by following the concepts of child psychology.
Angelou’s self-concept, as it stands in her autobiography revolves around her concerns of her physical appearance, which she fails to recognize that it is not her fault. She imagines of possessing “flaxen hair and sapphire eyes”. Within herself, she dreams of being as the sweet white young girls who she thought were a reflection the dutiful people the world could have offered (Angelou, 1969, p.2).
According to her, being white had the capacity to improve her presentation before the eyes of her peers, as she could no longer be “black and ugly”. Consequently, she attributes her incapacity to fit within her social groups to her physical unattractiveness. The non-proportionate physical perception renders her to acquire an incredibly low self-esteem.
Psychologist’s belief that the manner in which one critical evaluate his or her self esteem has a remarkably high ability in determining the criteria within which children base what they may term as positive and desirable attributes that define who they are. At one point in the autobiography, Angelou describes Bailey’s appearance with enormous admiration.
The manner in which her hair fell down in beautiful curls attracts her (Angelou, 1969, p.22). She wonders that amid such physical beauty Bailey yet loved her! This is an indication of high-order level of hatred.
On leaving Stamps to reunite with her biological mother, she alters an exceptionally strong statement that depicted her negative perceptions concerning her physical development. She Proclaims that her mother’s beauty surprised her and that she immediately came into cognition why her mother could not opt to have children around her (Angelou, 1969, p.60).
Even having not talked to her mother, she had already made a conclusion that Vivienne and Bailey were natural meant to remain together because they were both attractive. Since, it appeared to her that she was the only one out; she thought that she never fitted into these relationships.
However, Bailey incredibly assisted her to discover her prejudiced self-perception based on external looks. She did this by defending Angelou in instances when her people criticized her physical looks. Angelou describes one particular involving confrontation with Mrs. Coleman (Angelou, 1969, p.22). During this situation, she came to appreciate how far herself identity was from the manner in which various people perceived her looks.
Her momma also helped her come in to cognition of the need to appreciate her physical looks. She convinced her and kept reminding her that cleanness was not only next to godliness but also inventions of their misery are as a repercussion of dirtiness (Angelou, 1969, p.28). By making sure that Angelou was clean, her momma intended to inculcate a feeling of worthiness. Furthermore, she was trying to reshape Angelou’s negative perception of her physical appearance: something that was necessary for her development of positive self-concept.
Angelou’s Cognitive Development
One can subdivide the process of cognitive development in children into two parts. The first part constitutes the myriad processes employed by children while attempting to construct knowledge that is descriptive of the world in which they live.
It is, however, sad to learn how Angelou constructed her knowledge of the world that in which she lived. In the beginning, of the autobiography, I Know Why Caged Birds Sings, Angelou is an extremely conscious girl, who is, not only inflicted by traumas emanating from her displacements, but also to traumas of her being an American black girl; To make things even worse, a female.
She believes that people view her in the context of her ungainly looks proclaiming how she lies in between confusions of “ black and ugly dreams” (Angelou, 1969).
She grows up in the wake of gender discrimination, white-black prejudices and black power erosion. Her mother and grandmother raise her and her siblings in the low-class city of Arkansas, where she owns a small stall and the only one in the section specifically established for blacks. In fact, the stall serves as the meeting point for the blacks.
To add sourness amid the societal difficulties, Angelou had to cope with personal difficulties including abandonment by parents at an age of three. At the age of five, she had to live for an unknown destination. At the unknown destination, she finds herself under custody of Mr. Freeman who apart from mistreating her, she even rapes her.
As if this is not enough, at the age of just only ten, her loved ones including her mother begins to encounter direct white racism. One incident, so unfortunate for her, is when a white dentist: Dr Lincoln, proclaims that he better put her hand in a dog’s mouth than finding himself treating Angelou’s dental problem. Her sexuality conceptions further face advanced contractions upon her conception at barely the age of 16 while at San Francisco.
Central to child cognition abilities is the capacity to reason through analogies, which constitute the experiences. Many psychologists view reasoning through analogy as constituting the capacity to articulate the existing knowledge to news life situations by transferring and applying the existing knowledge to new contexts.
From the vivid descriptions of the life encounters of Angelou’s life, it can be approximated with precision that she had an enormous negative perception of a world of white who had the capacity to do anything negative having the ability to ruin the self regards of the blacks.
Since initial stage of development of human cognitions stands out vital especially in the determination of how an individual would end up contextual the world in the later ages beyond adolescence, it is almost impossible for Angelou to see whites in a humane way in adulthood.
The second part of cognitive development entangles looking at things differently from a different dimension. At this part, an individual begins to compare the accumulated knowledge with the present encounters. A child acquires the ability to think logically and can take valid positions without being predominantly egocentric.
This happens at around the age of seven to thirteen. Such a capacity may exemplify Angelou’s recognition of the fact that the prejudices directed toward her and the entire black community was not permanent and did not necessarily have to remain forever. She says that, at one time, she will rise against it and reveal her true self.
This explains why she perhaps acknowledges the fact that the so seemingly superior beings in the eyes of the blacks are not immune to the law. This prompts her to initiate legal actions against Mr. Freeman at the age of eight. Unfortunately, it seems that, the land laws initially favored the white community since; Mr. Freeman stayed in jail for only one day after which he died.
This incident negative Angelou’s self cognition since she ended exclaiming, “I thought I just spoke, my mouth would just issue out something that would kill people, randomly, so it was better not to talk” (Angelou, 1969, p.34). By incorporating strategies to address and view things differently, Angelou believed to have discovered the long quested independence. She discovers that the displacements and prejudices were unnecessary.
She yearns of getting a true explanation of what is to be black. Perhaps such cognition aids her to shift from negative perceptions that made her incapable recite a poem in a congressional filled with white faces in child hood to posses the ability to recite a poem before the eyes of entire America during president Clinton’s inauguration on 1993.
Angelou’s Social development
In 1956, Erikson developed eight stages of development. According to him, the first stage entangles development of hope. Hope here implied learning to trust and mistrust. With sexual assaults, mistreatments by whites, acts of racism, it is intriguing how Angelou could trust the whites.
It is, in addition, impossible to learn to trust when the child is poorly nurtured, develops poor optimisms and sense of insecurity. Though Angelou does not explain how her life was like at the age of one to two, when encompasses this first stage of social development, it is almost certain that things were grim since her birth until the discovery of herself identity.
During the second stage, a well brought up kid comes out sure of him or herself. According to many psychologists, this stage takes toll between the ages of two to four years. The child is proud opposed to being ashamed of her or himself. At such an age, Angelou had learned to recognize that their race was different from that of whites.
Consequently, those blacks had to live in particular low class area with minimal supply of social amenities. As reflected by her autobiography I Know Why Caged Birds Sings, at the age of four had started to posses the feeling of insecurity by virtual of being black.
In the third stage of social development, children learn to widen up their skills by participating in plays as one of the mechanisms of cooperating with others. They also attempt to lead also follow his/ her social group members. Children in stage four of social development (competence stage), according to Erikson, acquires knowledge necessary for the development of lifelong skills. They also stand a chance to relate with peers.
A mistrusting child, however, instead of learning to appreciate future learns to doubt it. Angelou is perhaps reflecting realities of this stage, as she attempts to recite a poem, which she does not complete due to frustrations of the environment in which she was reciting it.
Over the years, she had developed a kind of complexity toward the racists white community and believed that blacks were lesser community. From such constructs, it was impeccably almost impossible to garner up enough courage that would see her deliver the poem as appropriate.
It is also within this age bracket that Mr. Freeman rapes her: an act that is so common among the black women. She says that, men belonging to her race fell down in alarming numbers (killed) and women ambushed and raped just because their insinuated insignificance as human beings, as compared to whites (Angelou, 1969, p.34).
In addition, she contends that black women encountered assaults during their tender ages emanating from whites while at the same time they encountered prejudices due to racism hatred and their inability to have power (Angelou, 1969, p.35). The fact that she, not only possessed the knowledge of such hatred, but also experienced it at the age when she ought to develop strong relational kills with her peers who could include whites, this stage of her life was evidently badly impaired.
Consistent with the Erikson’s fourth stage of social development that claims that children filled with guiltiness have the capacity to encounter defeats coupled with uncertainties about future filled with inferiority complexities, Angelou worried about the position and the social capacity of her race in the future.
The fifth stage captures the end of the age bracket within which Angelou compiles her autobiography. Erikson believes that, at the age of thirteen or fourteen through the age of twenty, the children are at a position to depict who they are, as well as their composition. Angelou was a product of racism, prejudice, and a lesser human being. In this stage, children acquire their self-identity and starts aiming at achievements.
In addition, children try various roles in the society and ultimately settle at the one that they possess adequate skills to execute. Although, Angelou at this age bracket encounters challenges such as complication of her sexuality when she gets pregnant at an age of sixteen, she still manages to establish her social goals. Stamps introduced her authors of classic literature including William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.
Via these members of her social group, she gets to know artists belonging to black women community such as Harper, Douglas Jonson, and Jessie amongst others. Belonging to this social group is perhaps what gives her life long career inspirations, as revealed in her poetry and literature.
Angelou, M. (1969). I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Bantam.
Racism and Segregation Essay
In the book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the author, Maya Angelou, describes how she grew up as an intelligent Afro-American girl in South America and later in California in 1940’s. She gives an account of the various characteristics of her society that made her to mature. Having worked with Martin Luther in combating racism before her book, she had to incorporate the theme of racism in her work. Thus racism and segregation is highly depicted as a theme in her book (Angelou 1).
Racism and Segregation
In this book, Maya comes across many instances of blatant racism. She is forced to face racism and segregation in her country at a very young age.
While living in Stamps, Arkansas, she experiences the region’s characteristic segregation to the extent that she believes that white people do not exist. At this tender age, she is made to believe that every good thing belongs to the whites. This is evidenced in many incidences. An example is that, as she fails to recite her poem in church, she notes that her dress is probably a handout from a white woman.
She associates blond hair with beauty and believes that she is trapped in a “black ugly dream” (Angelou 7) with an unattractive African-American body. She also believes that she will soon wake from her nightmare and become as beautiful as the whites. The segregation that is characteristic of Stamps is evidenced by the statement that Mrs. Henderson owns a store in the black segment of Stamps (Angelou 1 – 11).
As she grows older, Maya encounters racist incidences that are more open and personal. Some of these incidences include the demeaning address that is directed towards her by a white speaker during her eighth-grade graduation, she also faces racist problems while applying for a streetcar job but she overcomes the problems to get the job.
Her white boss is also depicted as a racist. He calls her Mary despite her disapproval. When she visits a white dentist, he declines to treat her. There is evidence that black people were prone to acts of violence perpetrated to them by their white counterparts. This is from the incidence in which Maya and Willie help a black man escaping a white lynch mob.
The importance that the black attach to the world championship boxing match of Joe Louis shows how the black people thirst for recognition and also proves inequality in the community. Maya is also portrayed as a racist in some ways. For instance, she feels guilty of loving the works of William Shakespeare due to the mere fact that he was white (Angelou 11 – 23). In summary, the book has a notable thematic bias on racism.
From the discussion above, it is clear that the community Maya is living in is faced with serious segregation and racism. Maya uses this community to describe how life was during her time. She creates events that depict how racism was deeply rooted in the American community in the 1940’s. As described, these events include her belief that black people are ugly, the derogatory address by a white speaker during her graduation, the refusal by a white dentist to treat her, etc (Angelou 10 – 24).
Through these experiences, she learns how racism and segregation has affected her family members’ characters and strives to overcome the pressure mounted on her by these social problems.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. U.S. Bantam Books, 1983. Print.
Dr. Maya Angelou and Her Leadership Abilities Research Paper
This paper discusses the essence of Maya Angelou’s leadership abilities in regards to her endowment with the psychological traits of a truly charismatic individual. The main idea, which is being promoted throughout this paper’s entirety, is that the first key to the effectiveness of Angelou’s leadership-style is her unwavering allegiance to the plight of liberation-seeking African-Americans.
Dr. Maya Angelou and her Leadership Abilities
In his critically acclaimed TV series Civilization, British historian Kenneth Clark came up with a memorable remark: “I don’t know what civilization is, but I’m sure I’ll be able to recognize one when I see it” (00.01.10).
This Clark’s statement relates to the paper’s subject matter (namely, the leadership style of Maya Angelou) perfectly well, because one does not have to possess much of a theoretical knowledge about the concept of leadership, in order to be able to recognize Maya Angelou as a great leader; she never ceased embodying this concept.
Nevertheless, in order for us to be able to substantiate the soundness of this suggestion, the very essence of Angelou’s foremost leadership-qualities needs to be thoroughly examined. In this paper, I will aim to do just that.
Nowadays, it became a commonplace practice among politically correct Westerners to discuss the concept of leadership in terms of the concept of management.
Moreover, as practice indicates, many of them go even as far as implying that the term ‘leadership’ is being virtually synonymous to the term ‘cooperation’: “Leadership is a process by which diverse groups of people are empowered to work together synergistically toward a common vision and common goals” (Werhane, 2007, p. 427).
Nevertheless, the concept of leadership is best defined not as a process per se, but as one’s ability to get a particular process underway and to ensure this process’s effectiveness. According to Dubrin (2010): “We can define leadership as the ability to inspire conﬁdence and support among the people who are needed to achieve organizational goals” (p. 3).
When it comes to inspiring confidence in others, however, a potential leader cannot solely rely on its ability to rationalize the challengeable emanations of surrounding reality, he/she must possess certain charismatic qualities, which usually appear being of a mostly inborn nature. In its turn, this explains why rationale-based criteria for assigning one with the functions of leadership often prove to be rather ineffective.
The validity of this statement can be well explored in regards to the classical sci-fi films Alien and Terminator, which accurately portray the very mechanics of how seemingly undistinguishable and subservient women realized themselves being in position of natural-born leaders which, in turn, allowed them to proceed with the mission of ‘saving the world’ much more effectively, as it would have been the case with those who were fitted for this mission so much better, physically strong and rationalistically minded males.
Apparently, it is not only that women are being perfectly capable of acting as leaders, but they also appear naturally predisposed towards assuming this role, because unlike what it happened to be the case with men, the workings of a female psyche is being much more attuned with the ways of nature.
This is precisely the reason why, unlike men, women have traditionally been thought of to possess strongly defined intuitive powers, self-sacrificial instincts and a heightened sense of cosmic spirituality.
Even a brief analysis of these psychological characteristics reveals them as such that are being inseparably fused with the existential traits of true leaders, outlined in Dubrin’s book, as according to the author, natural-born leaders are supposed to be: “Visionary, courageous, charismatic… creative” (p. 5).
When one begins to study Maya Angelou’s biography, it becomes only the matter of time, before he/she would get to realize that Angelou was in fact endowed with all of the earlier mentioned qualities.
Therefore, it makes a perfectly logical sense to discuss her leadership-style in regards to these qualities, as it is namely because Angelou never ceased being looked upon as a role model by her contemporaries, that she was able to remain on the leading edge of America’s civil rights movement.
What makes Angelou so memorable as both an individual and a champion of African-American liberation movement is the fact that ever since her young years, she continued to promote her vision of what should have constituted the realities of American living, unaffected by racism: “Can you imagine if this country were not so afflicted with racism?
Can you imagine what it would be like if the vitality, humor and resilience of the black American were infused throughout this country?” (Nguyen, 2008, p. 201).
This gives Angelou a particular credit, after all, during her childhood, it was not only unthinkable for the people of color in America to dream of racial equality but even to question the ‘God-given’ appropriateness of African-Americans being subjected to the various forms of racialist mistreatment.
However, it was not solely due to the Angelou’s progressiveness in how she went about exposing the ugly face of white racism that she was able to attain a fame of one of the most remarkable leaders of civil rights movement, but also due to her ability to advance the cause of women’s emancipation.
It is essential to understand that prior to the publishing of Angelou’s autobiographical novel I know why the caged bird sings, women’s existential anxieties (especially the ones concerned with the very essence of female sexuality) were not considered a worthy subject to be discussed in the works of American literature.
In fact, even throughout the sixties, it remained a commonplace assumption, among the majority of America’s policy-makers, that being housewives represented women’s ‘natural calling’ in life. Angelou, however, succeeded with challenging the validity of this assumption.
In her novels, she shows that just as it is being the case with men, women deserve to enjoy the liberty to go about attaining social prominence in just about any way they consider appropriate.
Therefore, the socially imposed taboo on discussing women’s existential problematics is being of clearly oppressive nature and, as such, it needs to be disposed of: “The fact that the adult American Negro female (who) emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence.
It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserved respect if not enthusiastic acceptance” (Angelou 1969, p. 231).
It is needless to mention, of course, that such Angelou’s stance on the issue has been of clearly visionary nature, just as it was the case with the most prominent intellectuals, throughout the course of history, Angelou proved herself being way ahead of its time, in terms of how she used to assess the actual essence of a variety of different tradition-based social taboos.
Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that throughout her career as a political activist, Angelou continued to be awed and hated with the same degree of passion, one of the most striking characteristics of an individual with inborn leadership abilities.
Apparently, due to the sheer progressiveness of Angelou’s various literary, entertainment-related and political activities, these activities simply could not go unnoticed by both her supporters and adversaries.
Even though that, as of today, mainstream Medias tend to refer to the leadership-criteria as such that is being primarily concerned with self-proclaimed ‘leaders” ability to indulge in the meaningless politically correct rhetoric, while addressing the crowds of potential voters, true leaders do not talk even nearly as much as they actually act, often despite the impossible odds.
In its turn, this requires them to be thoroughly familiarized with the notion of courageousness. After all, it is only natural for a particular individual who aspires to lead others to some common goal, to assume that the safety or his/her personal life can never be fully guaranteed.
Maya Angelou’s biography leaves no doubt as to the fact that courageousness never ceased being one of her foremost existential traits.
Even though that throughout the course of sixties and seventies, Angelou was perfectly aware that her political activities could well result in her being murdered, just as it happened to Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, she, nevertheless, continued on with popularizing the message of racial liberation to the oppressed African-Americans.
Such her popularization, however, was not only limited to adopting a progressive stance on the issues of socio-political importance, while speaking on the behalf of America’s underprivileged citizens, Angelou never skipped an opportunity to practically contribute to the process of African-Americans beginning to shake off the yoke of racial oppression.
In 1962, Angelou traveled to Ghana and remained there for three years, while taking an active part in helping Black expatriates from America to become adjusted to the realities of African living (Peniel, 2010, p. 50).
Partially, Angelou’s strive to encourage African-Americans to explore their cultural roots can be explained by her unwavering belief that in order for Black people to be able to achieve equality with Whites, they should not be begging for such an equality, but to simply become powerful enough, so that even the most arrogant racists would be forced to recognize the validity of a Black plight.
Apparently, Angelou never ceased sharing Malcolm X’s idea that it is utterly naïve to expect civil rights to be given; these rights must be taken forcibly. And, it is specifically after African-Americans regain their vitality by the mean of distancing themselves from Western ideologemes, that they will be in position to compete with Whites on equal terms.
Therefore, there is nothing particularly odd about the fact that even up until comparatively recent times, many of Angelou’s novels used to be banned from America’s public libraries, apparently, decadent Whites were quick enough to realize that the ideas, contained in these novels, directly threatened the prospects of their continuous dominance over underprivileged African-Americans (Foerstel, 2002, p. 65).
Nevertheless, as practice shows, the more Angelou was being criticized on account of her ‘sexual explicitness’ and ‘black racialism’, the more and more African-Americans were growing to recognize her as a true leader.
This simply could not be otherwise, because by assuming an uncompromising stance, in regards to what signifies a foremost obstacle on the way of African-Americans aspiring to realize the full extent of their existential potential, Angelou had proven to be a truly courageous individual, who considered the ensuring of her people’s well-being as such that represented her first-order priority.
Apparently, Angelou was fully aware of the fact that without being endowed with the sense of courageousness, one cannot expect to be able to inspire trust in potential followers. As she had pointed out: “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.
Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency” (Nguyen, 2008, p. 98). Therefore, it will be fully justified, on our part, to stress out Angelou’s sharply defined sense of courageousness as yet another integral part of her leadership style.
The most peculiar characteristic of definitions of charismatic leadership is the fact that they are being often associated with mutually contradictory ethical implications.
For example, according to Popper (2000), this particular leadership-style is necessarily negative: “Charismatic leaders… use power for personal gain only, promote their vision, maintain one-way communication, and rely on convenient external moral standards to satisfy self-interests” (p. 731).
Shamir, House and Arthur (1993), on the other hand, refer to the concept of charismatic leadership in clearly positive terms: “Charismatic leadership is seen as giving meaningfulness to work by infusing work and organizations with moral purpose and commitment rather than by affecting the task environment of followers, or by offering material incentives and the threat of punishment” (p. 578).
Apparently, this concept cannot be discussed outside of charismatic leaders’ personality, of what happened to be their actual leadership-agenda, and of whether the utilization of charismatic leadership-style, on their part, is being consistent with the innermost workings of their psyche.
The first indication of Angelou being indeed a charismatic leader is the fact that regardless of what happened to be the actual nature of her socio-political, literary or artistic activities at a particular point of time, she never ceased being regarded as one of the most outspoken and popular advocates of a Black liberation movement.
This is because Angelou’s very presence used to radiate a robust charismatic spirit, hence, people’s tendency to perceive her as an authority-figure and their willingness to affiliate themselves with Angelou’s socio-political ideas, as if these ideas happened to be their own.
Yet, Angelou never took any personal advantage of her qualities as a natural-born leader of racially and socially oppressed African-Americans. In its turn, this exposes the sheer fallaciousness of Popper’s description of charismatic leadership’s actual essence.
Apparently, it never occurred to this rationally minded author that the very reason why true charismatic leaders enjoy an unwavering popularity with masses is that these leaders’ sense of intellectual honesty and their sense of existential idealism (the foremost prerequisites of charismatic) prevent them from abusing their charismatic powers.
After all, even such notoriously wicked charismatic leaders as Hitler and Stalin could be blamed for just about anything, but for having used their charisma to pursue strictly personal agendas.
It appears that the actual reason why charismatic Whites often end up taking the side of evil is that, unlike what it happened to be the case with the people of color, their rationale-driven sense of perceptional materialism does not allow them to expand their minds. Hence, these people’s tendency to try to adjust reality to their vision of what they think this reality should have been.
As it was noted by Tarnas (1991), “The Western mind’s overriding compulsion to impose some form of totalizing reason – theological, scientific, and economic, on every aspect of life is accused of being not only self-deceptive but destructive” (p. 400).
African-Americans, however, do not strive to dehumanize nature, as Whites do, but to live as nature’s integral parts: “Most African worldviews emphasize belongingness, connectedness, community participation and people centeredness” (Mkabela, 2005, p. 180).
Therefore, the fact that throughout the course of her life, Angelou continued to rely on primarily charismatic methods of raising public support to the cause of Black liberation could not have possibly resulted in any negative consequences, whatsoever. That is, of course, if undermining White people’s racist dominance in just about all the spheres of country’s public life is not to be considered a ‘negative consequence’.
One of the reasons why charismatic leaders are able to amass public support to the causes they promote is that there can hardly be any limit to their sense of creativeness (Gill 1969). The validity of this statement can be well illustrated in regards to Angelou’s biography, as an individual who proved herself being equally efficient in a number of seemingly incompatible pursuits.
For example, even though that, as of today, Angelou is being primarily remembered for her contribution to the cause of Black liberation, she was also able to gain the fame of a talented dancer. In fact, it was due to the sheer strength of Angelou’s artistic talents that she was able to attain social prominence for the first time in her life.
According to Nelson (2002), “It was in 1953 while performing at the Purple Onion, a cabaret in San Francisco, that she (Angelou) first used the stage name of Maya Angelou. Her dancing and singing at the Purple Onion attracted producers’ attention” (p. 13). As time went on, Angelou began to explore her sense of creativeness in the domain of literature.
It is essential to understand that before the publishing of her now-famous autobiographical novels, the very literary format of ‘semi-fictitious autobiography’ did not exist. Yet, experiencing the sensation of being destined for greatness (another psychological trait of a true leader), Angelou never had any reservations against breaking a number of well-established literary conventions.
Such a strong was Angelou’s conviction in the sheer potency of her creative genius that despite having no prior experience in composing music, she nevertheless, succeeded in writing a musical score to the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia (Gillespie, Butler & Long, 2008, p. 105).
Early seventies also mark the time when Angelou began experimenting with poetry. Predictably enough, she was able to succeed in this particular undertaking, as well in 1971, Angelou’s book of poems Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water’ Fore I Diiie was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Nevertheless, it would be wholly inappropriate to suggest that Angelou went about exploring her creativeness in solely literary/artistic domains.
For example, while being perfectly aware of the fact that the religion of Christianity has traditionally been helping Whites to keep African-Americans in submission, in her numerous public speeches, Angelou had made a point in exposing this ‘religion of peace and tolerance’ as what it really is, yet another instrument of White racist oppression.
In its turn, this explains why throughout seventies and eighties, she affiliated herself with Louis Farrakhan, a prominent leader of the Black Islamic movement.
Given the fact that one’s sense of creativeness is being largely concerned with his/her ability to revise the validity of seemingly ‘unshakable’ conventions, regardless of whether they happened to be of political, artistic of religious nature, there is nothing utterly surprising about Angelou’s association with the Nation of Islam.
Despite being endowed with a strongly critical attitude towards just about any organized religion, Angelou proved herself intuitive enough to realize that in order for African-Americans to be able to get a strong grip of their destinies, they must be ready to embrace a new spiritually liberating religion. That is, of course, if this religion stands in striking opposition to the so-called ‘Western values’.
This once again exposes Angelou as a true leader, whose leadership-style emanates a strong spirit of creativeness and unconventional. It simply could be otherwise, as it was shown earlier, Angelou’s ability to rely upon the deployment of creative/intellectually flexible approaches towards addressing life’s challenges, created objective preconditions for her leadership-style to prove utterly useful.
It does not represent much of a secret that the majority of people do have the aspirations of leadership. The irony lays in the fact that, as practice indicates, the less acute are the conscious leadership-related anxieties in a particular individual, the better he/she fits the role of a leader. In part, this can be explained by the fact that the sense of personal humility is another psychological trait of true leaders.
Therefore, it makes a perfectly good sense that despite Angelou’s endowment with the earlier analyzed leadership-qualities, she never strived to make a point in exhibiting them deliberately. This, however, simultaneously caused Angelou’s leadership-qualities to define the very essence of her positioning in life.
Even though that throughout her early years Angelou experienced a number of different hardships, she managed to remain an utterly optimistic individual, who faced life’s challenges with a smile on her face.
Just as it was the case with the rest of universally recognized female leaders, such as Joan of Arc or Margaret Thatcher, for example, Angelou’s talent in captivating audiences has been mainly concerned with her ability to show men what it means to act like real men, whatever illogical it may sound. In its turn, this had to do with the fact that despite Angelou’s external appearance as a fragile woman, she possessed an unbendable will power.
Apparently, the very purpose of her existence has always been serving the cause of African-Americans’ empowerment. This is the reason why in 2011, Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.
I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, in defense of a suggestion that Maya Angelou should indeed be regarded as the one of America’s most prominent charismatic leaders, is being entirely consistent with this paper’s initial thesis.
Therefore, it will only be logical to conclude this paper by reinstating once again that the actual key to Angelou’s effectiveness, as the spokesperson on behalf of the Black liberation movement, is the fact that she was predestined to live the life of a people’s servant. Hence, the striking omnipotence of Angelou’s leadership abilities, pure and simple.
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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Novel by Maya Angelou Essay
Maya Angelou’s novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings documents the trials and harrowing ordeals that she experienced growing up black, female and ostensibly orphaned in the southern United States in the 1930s.
Though classified as an autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings reads as a larger historical record of 20th century racial oppression in general. The novel harkens back to a time when the black community in the United States suffered brutal economic and social subjugation, not to mention unrestrained violence, with minimal access to basic education, justice or human rights.
The following essay analyzes Chapter 19 of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. A pivotal moment in the book, the action follows the World Heavyweight Boxing match between the Joe Louis and Max Schmeling in New York in 1936. This particular match became a loaded symbol for both blacks and whites of the period. Louis held the hopes and dreams of every African American in the United States.
Equally, Schmeling represented white supremacy; a decisive victory against Louis was necessary to prove the validity of the socio economic apartheid that African Americans endured under the Jim Crow segregation laws. Angelou’s chapter gives the reader access to a moment in American history when both the black and white communities engaged in a symbolic competition to determine who deserved to be in charge, and also details the ironic aftermath of Louis’ victory.
It is vital to understand that at the time, the laws themselves viewed through modern eyes would appear unconscionably racist. These laws found their justification in the widespread belief of the period that African Americans constituted a lower expression of humanity. Joe Louis therefore became a symbol for all African Americans of the period. They instilled their hopes in him to prove their legitimacy as humans, and to expose the injustice of the political system that oppressed them on the basis of skin color.
Thus, a loss by Louis signified much more than the outcome of a simple sporting contest; it essentially exonerated the whites and justified their behavior. In Angelou’s words, if the black boxer Louis lost the match to the white boxer Schmeling, “this might be the end of the world. If Joe lost we were back in slavery and beyond help. It would all be true, the accusations that we were lower types of human beings” (Angelou 135).
Angelou even elevates the stakes of the match to the spiritual realm when Maya admits that if Louis surrendered, it was tantamount to holy wrath. Louis’s loss would mean that “God himself hated us and ordained us to be hewers of wood and drawers of water, forever and ever, world without end” (Angelou 135). Chapter 19 demonstrates the symbolic significance of a boxing match that embodied one of the first covert forms of black social activism and rebellion in the 20th century.
Chapter 19 portrays a community unified in a desired outcome: the metaphorical trouncing of the white masters. Each member of the community holds a vested interest, whether boxing fans or not. “The last inch of space was filled, yet people continued to wedge themselves along the walls of the Store…Small children and babies perched on every lap available and men leaned on shelves or on each other” (Angelou 133).
Angelou describes the mood inside the store as “apprehensive” yet “shot through with shafts of gaiety” as the people listen anxiously to the boxing match on the radio (Angelou 133). Members of the community enjoy some moments of braggadocio courtesy of Louis’s superlative athleticism: “I ain’t worried ‘bout this fight. Joe’s gonna whip that cracker like it’s open season,” followed quickly by “he gone whip him till that white boy call him Momma” (Angelou 133).
Jabs in the ring echo jabs at the white masters from community members who comment on the weakening Schmeling: “some bitter comedian on the porch said, “That white man don’t mind hugging that niggah now, I betcha” (Angelou 134). Maya herself ponders the significance of the match to her race. “As I pushed my way into the Store I wondered if the announcer gave any thought to the fact that he was addressing as “ladies and gentlemen” all the Negroes around the world who sat sweating and praying” (Angelou 134).
Each member of the community present in the Store feels every punch that Schmeling lands. “My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree. One more woman ambushed and raped.
A Black boy whipped and maimed. It was hounds on the trail of a man running through slimy swamps. It was a white woman slapping her maid for being forgetful” (Angelou 135). Chapter 19 shows a community emotionally invested in the outcome of the boxing match and seeking pride and self worth through the achievements of one of their own.
Interestingly and ironically however, despite Louis’s victory, no visible change occurs. Maya’s terse description of Louis’s victory remains tacit, subdued and bordering on the indifferent: “Champion of the world. A Black boy. Some Black mother’s son.
He was the strongest man in the world” (Angelou 136). Joe Louis has won, yes, however the victory means that the community now fears for its safety more, anticipating the vengeance of the affronted whites. Maya closes the chapter with a sorry admission: “It wouldn’t do for a Black man and his family to be caught on a lonely country road on a night when Joe Louis had proved that we were the strongest people in the world” (Angelou 136).
Chapter 19 of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings provides a literary chronicle of a time in American history when both the black and white communities fought symbolically through World Championship Heavyweight boxing. Though the black boxer Joe Louis won the match, Angelou’s chapter illustrates the essentially hollow nature of Louis’ victory, as the black community will now suffer reprisals from the white community as a result.
Angelou, M. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1969. Print.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou Report (Assessment)
The process of transformation for a protagonist is a core element in the autobiography genre of literature. The book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is an example of a coming-to-age story of literary icon Maya Angelou. Consequently, the novel outlines the experiences of the main character from the time she is a child until she becomes a woman in her own right. In most coming-of-age stories, the plot is often the story of “a single individual’s growth and development within the context of a defined social order” (Leahy, 2004, p. 450).
In the case of Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, the social-cultural factors that impede the main character’s development are also the elements that contribute to her coming of age. In the coming-of-age genre, there are vital stages in the course of the protagonist’s development including the beginning/s of a journey, encountering a loss or a disappointment in a setting that is far away from home, and finally, the character encounters maturity after overcoming a set of internal and external struggles.
Another important aspect of character development is the struggle between his/her desires and needs in opposition to judgmental points of view that result from socio-cultural factors. In the grand scheme of things, the socio-cultural factors become the obstacles that Maya Angelou has to navigate through for her to gain accommodation in her society. The main character’s journey ends when she finds the confidence to conduct a self-assessment within a new setting. In “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, the protagonist has managed to offer reconstructions of her personal history as she comes to age as a literary icon.
In the course of her life, the protagonist has to triumph over various impediments such as rejection, poverty, racial discrimination, defilement, and rigid social principles. Her love of literature proves to be the starting point of her journey while her brother Bailey becomes the only stable aspect of her life. This essay tracks Maya’s character development and the socio-cultural factors that shape this development in this coming-of-age biography.
The journey and the transformation of a character have to start somewhere. In “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, the development of the protagonist and the novel’s plot starts with Maya’s realization that the color of her skin sets her apart from her peers. When Maya is residing with her grandmother in rural Southern America, the trigger to her journey of self-discovery is the racism and indignation that is triggered by the color of her skin. Consequently, “from the first moment Maya realizes that the color of her skin makes her different, to the self-satisfaction she feels giving birth to her son, the reader is led through her journey of growth and transformation” (Lupton, 1998, p. 34).
The narrator highlights this realization when she says, “because I was white and because a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me into a too-big Negro girl” (Angelou, 1997, p. 4). These opening passages of the story mark the beginning of the protagonist’s journey of transformation. First, the protagonist engages in a deep analysis of her African American heritage because even as a pre-teen she is already aware that her race is a source of both external and internal adversity. Later on in the book, Maya reveals that her process of self-hate begins when she realizes that she is ugly as per her society’s standards. In an interview that the literary icon did in 1973, Maya claims that her childhood was a period in which she had to overcome adversity and exorcise demons that had plunged her into internal shame (Angelou & Elliot, 1989).
When analyzing the character development in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, the protagonist’s awakening is obvious from the very first chapters of the book. Consequently, the protagonist begins going through the process in which she overcomes the burdens she has to shoulder including her self-consciousness when it comes to physical appearance. However, it is important to note that these insecurities are more pronounced when Maya is out of her social confines.
For instance, the protagonist feels safer when she is around her brother Bailey because he often defends her when she is ridiculed. Interestingly, Bailey is the yardstick with which Maya uses to gauge her physical appearance. The narrator expresses this scenario by noting that, “when I was described by our playmates as being shit color, he was lauded for his velvet-black skin…his hair fell in black curls, and my head was covered with black steel wool” (Angelou, 1997, p. 6). The character’s self-awakening is complicated by the fact that her mother and father are all good looking as per the standards of her days. The questions that go through Maya’s head are difficult about her origins and her inherent situation.
In any coming-of-age story, the main character often encounters obstacles just as things start to improve (Birch, 2001). At the height of her self-realization and her subsequent journey to self-discovery, Maya faces a series of challenges. First, the main character’s feelings of alienation are compounded by her reunion with her father, who proceeds to disappear from her life almost immediately. Thereafter, Maya lives with her ‘newly’ found mother Vivian whose the only impact on the young girl’s life is contributing towards the feelings of awkwardness.
For instance, from the time she meets her mother Maya is convinces that Vivian considers her and Bailey to be inconvenienced. The protagonist reveals that “I knew immediately why she had sent me away…she was too beautiful to have children…I had never seen a woman as pretty as she who was called ‘Mother’” (Angelou, 1997, p. 15). Also, the fact that Maya feels that her mother’s beauty stands in stark contrast with her mediocre looks makes the protagonist’s stay in California to be a very uncomfortable exercise.
Another great challenge that Maya encounters in her journey of self-discovery in this coming-of-age story is her rape ordeal at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. This unfortunate incident happens when Maya’s mother irresponsibly leaves her behind when she goes out at night to gamble. When the rape happens, the main character has always begun appreciating and recognizing Freeman as a father figure. This ordeal becomes more complicated for the main character when her tormentor is killed mysteriously in connection to the rape. Consequently, the main character feels partly responsible for Freeman’s death in addition to the sense of shame that she already carries as a rape victim.
Another important part of the protagonist’s journey is the point where her desires and predispositions stand in stark contrast with her socio-cultural settings. This continuous clash of desires and needs leads to personal growth for the protagonist (Wang & Yu, 2006).
For Maya, this happens when she suffers rape as a young girl and she declines to talk to anyone except her brother. As a selective mute, Vivian finds Maya too difficult to deal with and she sends her back to her grandmother in Stamps. Maya’s return to the land of racism does not do any justice to her inner conflict. In the course of this conflict and subsequent personal growth, Maya discovers objects of refuge such as the books she is introduced to by Bertha Flowers (Angelou & Elliot, 1989). The protagonist’s needs and desires are once again thrown into turmoil when she is sent back to California where she has to contend with unstable living conditions in her mother and father’s abodes. This culminates in the protagonist becoming pregnant at the age of fourteen.
The final part of the journey in the development of a protagonist as he/she comes of age happens when “the spirit and values of the social order become manifest in the protagonist, who is then accommodated into society… ends with an assessment by the protagonist of himself and his new place in that society” (Hirsch, 1999, p. 294). In “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, the protagonist coming to age happens when she settles in San Francisco and becomes the first African American streetcar conductor. Furthermore, Maya realizes that people’s opinions never bother her in any way. The culmination of the protagonist’s character development is the birth of her son, which gives her a sense of belonging in a world that appears to conspire against her. Through the love that she shows her newborn son, Maya Angelou can able to finally love herself.
The protagonist in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is compelling and offers a thrilling coming-of-age experience in this autobiography. She goes through growth in a pre-defined social hierarchy that puts her down as an African American woman. In the course of her journey, Maya encounters various challenges and personal losses. Eventually, the main character undergoes the process of maturity until she discovers her position in society.
Angelou, M. (1997). I know why the caged bird sings. New York, NY: Bantam Dell Publishing Group.
Angelou, M., & Elliot, J. M. (1989). Conversations with Maya Angelou. Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi.
Birch, E. L. (2001). Black American women’s writing: a quilt of many colours. Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
Hirsch, M. (1999). The novel of formation as genre: Between great expectations and lost illusions in studies in the novel. Genre Norman, 12(3), 293-311.
Leahy, R. (2004). Authenticity: From philosophic concept to literary character. Educational Theory, 44(4), 447-461.
Lupton, M. J. (1998). Maya Angelou: A critical companion. New York, NY: Greenwood Publishing Group.
Wang, H., & Yu, T. (2006). Beyond promise: Autobiography and multicultural Education. Multicultural Education, 13(4), 29-35.