I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Power Poetry: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The two books, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, both tell great stories to their audience. They are able to do this because of the authors styles. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a autobiography where the writer, Maya Angelou, shares her experience with abuse and neglect as a child. As where A Lesson Before Dying is historical fiction that tells the story of a black man named Jefferson living in the jim crow south who is wrongly accused of murder and sentenced to death, but has the help of a man named Grant Wiggins and learns that his death will represent something bigger than he can understand.
In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, Angelou tells a well crafted story of her experience with abuse and neglect as a child through her use of many literary devices. One of those literary devices that Angelou uses is simile. Angelou says “Until I was thirteen and left Arkansas for good, the store was my favorite place to be. Alone and empty in the mornings, it looked like an unopened present from a stranger”. This quote is important because Angelou compares the store to a present which is showing just how important it is to her. Angelou also makes use of symbolism. An example of said symbolism would be the Store, it is owned by her mom which is rather impressive for that time period for a women not to mention for a black woman in the south. This is symbolism of not only how rare it was for a women to own a business but is also symbolism of progress against racism in the south.
In A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, Gaines uses different literary devices to create a story that is designed in a way to teach its audience. One of the literary devices that gets used is denotation. Denotation is shown when Jeffersons defense attorney says “What justice would there be to take this life? Justice, gentlemen? Why, I would just as soon put a hog in the electric chair as this”. The denotation shown in this is when he calls Jefferson a hog, by calling Jefferson a hog the attorney is implying that Jefferson is to stupid to execute. This inspires Miss Emma to have Grant teach Jefferson that he is not a hog but that he is a man.
A Lesson Before Dying develops its message by telling its story in chronological order and using lots of narration. However, the author creates a certain style by making it so the characters Jefferson and Grant have very different narrating styles. This is because Grant is an educated man as where as Jefferson is not very educated because education opportunities for African Americans were very limited.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings uses a lot of description and imagery to help develop it’s message. A very good example of this would be when Angelou says “Unlike the white high school, Lafayette County Training School distinguished itself by having neither lawn, nor hedges, nor tennis court, nor climbing ivy. Its two buildings (main classrooms, the grade school and home economics) were set on a dirt hill with no fence to limit either its expands to the left of the school which was used alternately as a baseball diamond or a basketball court. Rusty hoops on the swaying poles represented the permanent recreational equipment, although bats and balls could be borrowed from the P.E. teacher if the borrower was qualified and if the diamond wasn’t occupied .” This shows Angelou’s use of imagery and description very well.
These two books haves styles that have many similarities while also having many differences. While each book develops it’s message in a different way, both share multiple literary devices used by the authors. As well as both books are stories that show the hardship of racism on African Americans in the Jim Crow south.
An Importance Of Books in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, illustrates a futuristic society in which all books have been deemed illegal to possess. If society allows a small group of individuals to determine what is appropriate to read, Bradbury’s vision of our world may become reality. One of the most frequently challenged books in the United States is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Because of the harsh reality it portrays, Angelou’s memoir is one of the most controversial books parents and teachers still argue about today.
Angelou’s memoir describes her life during the difficult times and explains how she was able to pull through the injustice she experiences. When she was younger, Maya and her younger brother, Bailey, lived with their grandmother after their parents divorced. Later, their father, whom they’ve never met, picks them up to live with their mom, Vivian, and her boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. As an eight-year-old, Maya is raped by Mr. Freeman and he threatens to kill her brother if she tells anyone. Vivian finds out, bringing the case all the way to court. Maya does not admit that she was raped because of the fear of her brother’s death, so instead of being punished by the law, Mr. Freeman is brutally murdered by someone related to Maya. Thinking it’s her fault, she becomes mute, shutting off everyone around her except for Bailey. After moving back with her grandmother, she regains the will to speak after kind, educated woman named Mrs. Flowers teaches her the importance of literature.
Soon after, she begins to experience the realities of racism after working for a white woman who called her by the wrong name just for her own convenience, listening to a white speaker at her eighth grade graduation talk about how black students are only expected to become an athlete or servant, getting insulted and rejected to be treated by a white dentist for her rotten tooth, and hearing that a white man stood over a dead, rotting black man’s body with satisfaction. Worried because of the influences Maya and Bailey might obtain, Mama moves them to California where their mother, Vivian, now lives. Again, they all move to San Francisco, where Vivian marries Daddy Clidell, a positive father figure, whom Maya learns to like through his emphasis of black power. One summer, Maya decides to spend the summer with her father and his girlfriend, Doroles, whom treats Maya very poorly due to her jealousy. Daddy Bailey drives with Maya down to Mexico and has a good time, only to come back drunk and falls asleep in the back seat of the car. Determined, Maya drives them down the mountain with no driving experience but by will alone. Her father does not acknowledge her achievement of driving them all the way to the border which hurts Maya, so the drive back home is uncomfortable. Once they arrive home, Doroles and Daddy Bailey argue about marriage and how Doroles doesn’t want Maya around. Maya slaps Doroles after she insults her mother and is cut by Doroles right before she runs away to protect herself. Daddy Bailey finds Maya and drives her to a friend, but Maya soon runs away downtown because of the belief that he would prefer if she disappears. She finds herself at a junkyard car with a group of teenagers for about a month, but returns to Vivian because of homesickness. This experience matured Maya and she becomes stronger and self-assured. Maya soon becomes the first black streetcar conductor in San Francisco and it helps her feel independent and returns back to school. At the age of sixteen, she begins having identity issues and starts to wonder if she is lesbian. To assure herself she wasn’t, she gets a boyfriend and asks to have sex with him. Although she isn’t very pleased of the experience, she finds out she is pregnant a few weeks later, hiding the fact for eight months and even graduating high school without anyone knowing. In the end, she learns to be confident as a mother to her newborn son.
Katherine Chamberlain’s article, “Spotlight on Censorship: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” informs us of the statistics about the controversies of the book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. For instance, when finding that the book at thirty nine public challenges or bans since 1938, she explains, “The majority of complaints were from parents who objected the book’s depiction of sexually explicit scenes, including the rape and molestation suffered by the author as an eight-year-old, but it also has been challenged for being ‘anti-white’ and encouraging homosexuality.” (http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=1495) These reasons illustrate the strong will of parents to hide their children from the negative realities of this world because they’re afraid that it might influence them in an unfavorable way. The world seems to be so against homosexuality and knowledge of good and bad, turning the world into an ignorant place. Furthermore, Angelou’s response to this seems to be very sympathetic, commenting, “I’m always sorry that people ban my books. Many times I’ve been called the most banned. And many times my books are banned by people who never read two sentences. I feel sorry for the young people who never gets to read.” (http://www.oif.ala.org/oif/?p=1495) Maya Angelou implies that people are just being racist towards her book and that young people should be given the opportunity to read her book. Her response is meant to allow people to realize that she is persistent in her belief that her book is an educational and appropriate book, encouraging people all around the world to read her life story and hopefully gain something from it. Katherine Chamberlain shows her stance in the situation by quoting Holbrook Jackson: “Fear of corrupting the mind of the younger generation is the loftiest form of cowardice.”
Leslie Goffe’s article, “Maya Angelou – the most banned author in the US,” discusses the reasons for the hatred Angelou’s memoir receives and the victories the parents and school officials had to ban the book in certain places. For example, after stating that parents in Virginia formed a group to stop young people from reading Maya’s book, Leslie further proved, “And, in Poolesville, Maryland, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was removed from the local high school reading list because, protestors charged, it was ‘likely to corrupt minors.’” (http://newafricanmagazine.com/maya-angelou-banned-author-us/) Athough the book isn’t completely banned, some states managed to convince their state to ban it, using the excuse that it encouraged a variety bad habits. As you can see, the protesters have interpreted the book in a negative way, assuming that Maya was supportive of these habits when all she was writing about was reality. Adults assume that when something is written, it is encouraged, but not all authors in this world agree with the facts they write. However, when hearing all the negative responses, she rejected this “and showed she would not be intimidated or silenced. In a 2013 interview, she said: ‘Let me tell so much truth, I want to tell the truth in my work. The truth will lead me to all.’” (http://newafricanmagazine.com/maya-angelou-banned-author-us/) She simply states that she is not being crafty, but just plain truthful. Her work shows the reality of life and the history of the United States’s society, which can help students learn from. Despite her achievements and recognition of the book, she still has some resentment of her book from the public, which she firmly disagrees with.
Chasitymoody’s review, “50 Banned Books: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” explains her take in the situation and her opinion of the book. For instance, when stating the status, she claims, “The main complaint against it was that it provided ‘encouragement to partake in premarital sex, homosexuality, and use profanity.’ It was also criticized as ‘a lurid tale of sexual perversion.’” (http://www.parentheticalviews.com/?p=46) The book never says that it is a good idea to have sex, to be homosexual, or to use profanity; it just happens. Nevertheless, people take these things in accountable for when they read books, being aware of what children would learn from the book. The main reason why parents want to ban books in the first place is because of their strong opinion on their take of a book. Moreover, after reading the book, Chasitymoody claims, “At 14 my focus was on all of the horrible things that happened to this young and innocent girl. At 30 my focus is on her strength and the uplifting nature of her spirit.” (http://www.parentheticalviews.com/?p=46) As she grew older, she understood the beauty of the way Angelou’s life turned out, even through her difficult journeys. As a reader, she describes how she felt about the book when she was younger and older, showing the importance of how age can be critical when reading a book. The perspective of the book really changes what you learn from the book; with an optimistic mindset, you’ll learn something positive, but with a pessimistic mindset, you’ll only grasp at the negative points.
Maya Angelou’s explicit memories shared in her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, can be deemed inappropriate while to others, it can seem realistic. Although the book contains disturbing content, Maya has only shared the society as it was back in the day. Her book merely shows the reality of the prejudice she experienced as a child and is no different than a history document. Without the book, people will become ignorant to the downside of reality, just like the society in Fahrenheit 451, where they did not care about the war going on and diverted their attention only to their worldly pleasures.
Adversity in Life Of Maya in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings Book
Facing Adversity in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”
Bigotry, human suffering, and doubt; these adversities, in all forms, can trap even the most strong-willed of birds into a suffocating cage. It was mostly here where Maya Angelou experiences her life, gazing at the world within the restricting bars of her “cage”. But although her body, mind, and soul becomes downtrodden under the ‘accepted” biases of her time, she manages to break free from her oppression with her unflinching courage and persistence, opening her cage and soaring far in the sky, now able to fulfill her dreams. And with this unforeseen victory did she sing, loud for those who have not yet broken free. In the end, she prevails triumphantly and her adversities become a thing of the past.
Early in her life was Maya greatly exposed to bigotry: “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unneccessary insult.” (Angelou, Preface) She knew that being black wasn’t a good thing during her time, and that knowing she was black made her feel worse. She’s been so influenced by the way people look towards blacks that she feels extremely self-concious. It was a great adversity for her from a young age on to understand that people did not accept the her color and race. But after living “underneath” the white man, Maya Angelou could not tolerate it any longer. Upon asking for a job as a trolley driver, she was rejected by the white secretary because she was black, but persistence and hope eventually paid off when she finally was accepted and hired. She didn’t care about the pay, but knowing she could get something as a black woman even though a white tried to stop her seemed like a personal win.
Another adversity in her life was suffering. She experienced suffering first-hand when Mr. Freeman raped her:
Then there was a pain. A breaking and entering when even the senses are torn apart. The act of rape on an eight-year-old body is a matter of the needle giving because the camel can’t. The child gives, because the body can, and the mind of the violator cannot. (Angelou, p.78)
Before this horrible tragedy, Mr. Freeman threatened Maya that if she told anyone about this crime he would kill Bailey. Maya accepted for the guarantee of Bailey’s safety. In this quote, Maya explains that the rape changed her, and that what her body gave was not enough for “the mind of the violator.” Later in her life would she turn back to ths experience and assume the rape was the reason why she couldn’t experience sexual love, such as when she seduced a young man:
“Thanks to Mr. Freeman nine years before, I had had no pain of entry to endure, and because of the absence of romantic involvement neither of us felt much had happened.” (Angelou, p.282)
She felt there wasn’t a reason for intimacy, but when she gave birth, she changed her mind. Her baby inspired her, and afterward suffering didn’t mean much to her.
Finally, one of her life’s true adversities was doubt. In much of her life, she never fully understood what would happen. When she heard from her parents through their exchange of Christmas gifts, she couldn’t help but doubt whether or not they would come back to raise them as their kids: “The gifts opened the door to questions that neither of us wanted to ask. Why did they send us away? and What did we do wrong?” (Angelou, p.53) She never understood at the time, but later on when they moved in with their mother dd they find out they had a divorce.
When Maya Angelou took the seat of the wheel of her father’s car when Daddy Bailey was intoxicated, she doubted if she would be able to drive through the curved roads up and down the mountain. But after a few jolts and bumps she got used to the wheel. When in doubt, she figured a little adrenaline could go a long way.
Throughout her life, she encountered much adversity. Civil unrest and racism scarred her existence. But empowered with the voice of an angel, she tamed even the most powerful of beasts with her sharp tongue. Her book acted as a sword that would be used to slay the beast that is bigotry. Her life inspired millions. Suffering and doubt used to bar her inside her cage, but she refused to be imprisoned and with her hope and perseverance did she escape. A free woman in an unforgiving world, she sang with all her might through each written page, hoping at least one person who listen to her call. Indeed did many respond. Overcoming adversity is a honorable thing and when she did, the people acknowledged it. She overcame adversity by not only completing the task, but learned and taught others from it. The novel is a giant teaching, and the words she expressed changed the world. When she was caged, she wouldn’t even think of being heard. But you don’t ave to be powerful to be heard. You just have to sing hard enough.
A Role Of Cage in I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
A title often conveys a deeper meaning of the books content. The title of Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was chosen to relate to a poem written by Paul Laurence Dunbar. The cage is a metaphor for what is holding Maya back. In the metaphor, she is a caged bird who is unable to solve her problems but still sings of hope. Maya is presented with many struggles in her early life that she doesn’t have the ability to overcome. She is introduced as a small girl in a town where she constantly lives in a displaced mindset. She battles to make connections and to belong. Growing up Maya doesn’t relate well to many people. This lack of acceptance takes away her chance to have a true childhood and pieces of her begin to fall apart. Angelou writes of a poem that she had to memorize, “What you looking at me for? I didn’t come to stay…” (1). This opening line demonstrates the problems that she faces and how she fights them. This is the definition of Maya’s childhood and her cage. She believes that she is in a “black ugly dream” from which she cannot escape. The idea of this ugly dream and the fact that she “didn’t come to stay” foreshadow many of the events in Maya’s life. Her personality and strength help her fight through the battles that she faces. Maya is a caged bird who “sings of freedom”.
In the book, Maya fights her cage in many ways. This battle can be related to the poem by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, “Sympathy.” Dunbar wrote, “And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars/ And they pulse again with a keener sting” (Dunbar 12-13). She has been through so much yet still new scars are created. Maya’s scars would include her inability to fit into her family and into the white world. She cannot relate to her mother, father, and brother because they all have the same trait that she does not: beauty. In the book, she is introduced in a purple Easter dress that she believes will make her suddenly turn into a beautiful white woman with curly blond hair that nobody would recognize. This is Maya’s way of expressing that she believes that to achieve beauty, she must first be white. When the dress fails to change her appearance, Maya is distraught. Angelou writes, “If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat” (Angelou 4). This shows the reader that Maya is aware that she does not fit in with her family or the white world. Knowing this, She tries to find someone that she can connect with. The first connection she makes was with Mr. Freeman, a man who had worked for her mother. This is not to say that this connection was a good one. It ended poorly when he takes advantage of her. Maya at the time had known very little about sex, leading her to believe that Mr. Freeman was only showing fatherly affection. She later realizes that what she had thought was a gentle, kind action was and is a crime and reduces the amount of trust she has for adults. This experience confines Maya’s ability to develop because she does not understand why an adult that she thought she could trust would hurt a child in that way. Understanding of her displacement gives her more strength as her story progresses.
Maya is a scarred, caged bird, but because of her strength, she still has the ability to sing. Angelou also wrote a poem entitled “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” with inspiration from Paul Laurence Dunbar. In this poem, Angelou writes, “and his tune is heard/ on the distant hill/ for the caged bird/ sings of freedom” (“Caged Bird” 34-37). Maya overcomes many struggles in her life and many times does she cry out for help but despite her lack of support she still has strength. Maya’s post-rape trauma was expressed through her silence. This is Maya’s way of crying out for help. In the opening line of the book, Maya wishes that she had come to stay, but since all of her connections, attempts for change, and cries for help have failed, her expectations are low. Despite this, she still reaches out to people. The reader clearly sees Maya’s ability to maintain strength when she visits her father. Angelou writes, “Explained that I didn’t like her because she was mean […] he laughed, and when I added she didn’t like me […] he laughed harder” (Angelou 229). This demonstrates Maya’s disconnect from her father. The way he reacts to the serious discussions shows the reader that he doesn’t understand Maya. Even though he constantly, yet unintentionally, pushes her away, Maya still has hope for her relationship with her father and gives him a multitude of chances during their trip in Mexico. When he abandons Maya, she feels distraught and confused as to why her father would leave her but still refuses to give up. If she had truly given up, she would not have tried so hard to get her father home safely. As Maya’s determination and strength move forward, they become her song of freedom.
Maya’s determination to rise above and find strength in the challenges she faces is how she stands firm. In Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise”, She writes, “You may shoot me with your words/ but still, like air, I’ll rise” (“Rise” 21-24). This poem, written years after the book, shows that Maya Angelou doesn’t let her inability to fit into her family and into the white world get ahold of her entire life. Instead she uses this poem to show growth and development. In the book Maya shows her development by having a child. Angelou writes, “Totally my possession, and I was afraid to touch him […] sat for hours by his bassinet and absorbed his mysterious perfection” (Angelou 288). Maya having a baby is sign of growth to the reader. She has finally attained the perfection that she had been searching for, though it does not come in the form of acceptance, Maya finds something that makes her feel important. As a result, she becomes a part of small two-person community where she knows that she is needed. Maya has finally found a way to open her cage and “sing of freedom”.
Freedom As The Main Message In I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings By Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was born according to the Poetry Foundation, “in Marguerite Johnson in St. Louis, Missouri on April 4th, 1928. She was a female African-American poet, storyteller, activist, and autobiographer. Her poem “Caged Bird” was written in 1969, and it was her most acknowledge poem”. This poem has many possible explanations, depending on what context you are going with. But there is only one theory that is close to what Maya was living. Well, according to Poetry Foundation, “In one of its most evocative (and controversial) moments, Angelou describes how she was first cuddled then raped by her mother’s boyfriend when she was just seven years old”. In my opinion, her feelings of being constantly harassed by this person explain why she felt so trapped in this atmosphere and how she imagined having a free life. This can be supported by the first stanza of the poem in which she describes how a person, in this case, a bird, is free without limitations and no way of stopping or going towards the dream. In the opposite, a caged bird is the one that is trapped in that little space without being able to fly or express itself. This is also a sign of what African-Americans used to live in that time, where white people mistreated the free expression of black people. In other words, the whole context of the poem is based on the term “freedom” and what would happen in life without it.
The contrast of the whole poem, as I said earlier, the difference between a free bird and caged bird is that free bird has no limitations and is able to express its feelings while a caged bird is trapped and more isolated or ignored. In this case, the author expresses her own feelings on how she felt growing up in a rough life and the racial supremacy. Another important note that this poem has is that it’s very symbolic in the terms of “free bird” which is as I said earlier, a sense of freedom. It’s also similar to the “white dove” which is peace and tranquility. The author is expressing her feelings about what a free bird is able to do. Some keywords of this are “leaps”, “dips”, “bright”, etc. In the other context, she explains caged bird as something atrocious such as words like “rage”, “fearful trill”, “nightmare”, etc. Another important note is that there is a quite ironic term where the author says “The caged bird sings” which is the opposite since the one that is supposed to be singing is the free bird. But the caged bird sings a “fearful trill”, which in this case is more like a frantic cry for freedom. Another message that the poem can convey, apart from the whole mistreatment of black people and how the author felt with the abuse of her mother’s boyfriend, can be on how the women were treated back in the day, were they thought that women were only allowed to take care of children, cook, clean, a typical housewife. If the women were to go out of the regimen, she would have many consequences, and so her freedom was more limited. There are many messages that this poem can show since the whole topic of this poem is that there are people that have more freedom than others. Some other examples can be the concept of religion, were people are limited to some sort of things, or even in the LGBT community, were there are still people that religiously discriminate against them and those people inside that community feel trapped, and there are so many more examples that the message of the poem can explain.
In conclusion, the whole point that the author, Maya Angelou, conveyed is that freedom is something very important in our society. Nobody deserves to be “caged” or trapped with restrictions on doing what they wish or what they dream to be. Even if they are in a cage, they still have hope and dreams waiting to be fulfilled. This poem not only does it give us a stand in the world in making us be heard and express ourselves, but it also gives us tranquil thinking that we can be accepted, and we can be free of thoughts and feelings with no limitations in doing the things we hope to do. We also must not let fear be the one stopping our dreams, instead, let it be the one that motivates you in doing what a free bird can do.
Professor Campbell’s Monomyth in Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Professor Joseph Campbell states “a hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” The “monomyth” created by Campbell is a common pattern that is found in great mythical heroes. Maya Angelou is an example how everyday people can follow Professor Campbell’s monomyth . Throughout Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she follows the steps of the Separation, the Abyss, and the Return.
In further details, Professor Joseph Campbell monomyth begins with the separation. In the beginnings in great mythical stories, the hero is accustomed to his or her way of living, that’s until they are taken away from that comfort of their ordinary life. Psychologically speaking, when the hero has something done to tell them that mentally removes them for their ordinary life.
Growing up, Maya Angelou faced many problems that interferes with her ordinary day to day life. When Angelou parents separated, Angelou’s father sent her and her brother, Bailey Jr., to live with their grandmother who soon became their parental grandmother. After a couple of months, when Angelou is situated with her grandmother way of living, her father decided to remove Angelou and Bailey from their grandmother care and return them to their mother, Vivian.
“A year later our father came to Stamps without warning. It was awful for Bailey and me to eye the reality so suddenly.” After arriving back to their mother’s care, both siblings found it hard adjusting to the way of living after going back and forth through the divided south, Stamps, and St. Louis, which was more chaotic and alienated. Angelou even mentioned that she felt as though her brother lost his soul, putting that into consideration her brother might be going through a separation himself. Vivian started a relationship with a man named Mr. Freeman, who Angelou refers to as “The Man.” One day Freeman sexually abuses Maya and then after threatening to kill her brother Bailey Jr. “‘If you ever tell anybody what we did, I’ll have to kill Bailey.” after avoiding Angelou for a long amount of time when Vivian was gone, Freeman rapes Angelou and threatened her if she ever told.
Angelou told her brother about what happened with her and Freeman, which later got Freeman arrested and went on trial. Although, Freeman was sentenced to a year and one day in jail, he only spent a night in jail. But to Angelou’s displeasure, Freeman was later found beaten to death, after founding out about this new, Angelou immediately stop talking, fearing that her voice killed a man “The only thing i could do was to stop talking to everyone except Bailey”. Angelou became selectively mute, causing her to separate herself from the people around her. Vivian couldn’t take the silence and sent Angelou and Bailey Jr. back to their grandmother’s care.
In the threshold, this is the hero “jumping off point” to the adventure. During the threshold, the hero is in a confusing stage in his or her life where he or she is in between the known and unknown. A major part of this stage is that the hero meets his or her mentors, the mentors comes with advice and helps the hero gain confidence to overcome his or her fears.
Whilst in her grandmother’s care, Angelou meets Bertha Flowers. Mrs. Flowers was Angelou ideal of the perfect woman and Angelou soon enough see Mrs. Flowers as a role model.
Angelou meeting Mrs. Flowers, begins her journey of healing from her sexual assault. Mrs. Flowers made Angelou read a variety amount of literature and poetry that includes Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and many others “‘There’s one more thing. Take this book of poems and memorize one for me. Next time you visit, I want you to say it for me.” Mrs. Flower made Angelou realize how strong and passionate having a voice can be. After speaking to her grandmother, Angelou didn’t get the reaction she thought she would get, Angelou said a word that her grandmother thought that cursed god and in return Angelou’s “got a whooping” from her grandmother.
During the journey, the hero is faced with many obstacles and one overall challenge that he or she has to overcome in order to grow. Angelou grew up as a African-American women during the Jim Crow era, who was also a child sexual assault victim. Angelou’s mentioned how the white women and children would treat her grandmother with disrespect and watch how her grandmother had to stay calm, cool, and collective. For example, a couple of young white girls repeatedly try to imitate and bother Angelou’s grandmother, their feet bare feet were dirty and one girl did a handstand, letting her dress fell down to her shoulders, Angelou’s grandmother continues to ignore the young ladies, when they left and said bye, she replied with calling them Misses before their names. “And then, if they were dirty, mean, and impudent, why did Momma have to call them Miss?” Growing up and being judged on something you can’t change can take a toll on people. Being a victim of rape and coping with the trauma by becoming mute was Angelou biggest challenge as a child. Angelou felt as though she deserves the abuse by Freeman convincing her that she does, Angelou felt that is was her fault for being nice, feeling sorry for him, and her craving for parental affection. That being said, Angelou was also a victim of neglect, throughout years of parental abandonment, Angelou never felt as she truly belong somewhere, she once assumed Vivian was dead but received a gift from her during Christmas only to make Angelou wonder why Vivian doesn’t want her, “Until that Christmas when we received the gifts, I had been confident that they were both dead.” Angelou and Bailey Jr. later destroyed that said gift, and whilst meeting her father, Angelou couldn’t even process that he was her actual father.
Into the Abyss, the greatest challenge the hero must face and he or she has to face it alone. The hero’s biggest challenge is something that he or she kept bottled up for a long period of time and it needs to be resolved in order to continue his or her journey. This stage can cause the hero to be submerged into his or her fears and they have to come back a later time to fully grow up and resolve it.
Taking that into consideration, Angelou biggest fear was her own voice. Angelou kept her words bottled up and fear if she let them out that someone will get hurt again. Angelou struggled immensely with resolving the trauma within her, she didn’t know who to blame or who to come to, even with the help of Mrs. Flowers, she knew she had to face the fear alone, she has the decision to let her abuse control her and make her grow.
After the hero overcomes the separation and the abyss, the final step is the return. The hero returns to his or her ordinary life and has grown as a person, the hero returns with a new set of skills and awareness and use them to contribute to his or her society. Angelou ends up resolving issues within herself, where she can even write an autobiography about what she went through during her early life. Angelou became a civil right activist, joining the Black Panthers and working with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, she also became a mentor to many people around the world.
As the research has demonstrated, Maya Angelou follows Professor Joseph Campbell’s monomyth throughout her book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Campbell states that ordinary people can also experience the hero journey in their everyday life, Angelou is one of the many who has went through the steps of the Separation, the Abyss and the Return.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings By Maya Angelou: The Struggle Of Black Women In Marginalized Community
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is incredibly unapologetic. From her early childhood to her late teens, Maya already confronted many challenges in her life. These early challenges included moving away from her parents, undergoing self-hate, confronting racism in the south, surviving rape as a youth, and lastly, developing her love for literature. Throughout the novel, you see Maya transform into one newly developed human being after another.
In the prologue, Maya is reciting a poem to herself for church and forgets it immediately. For church, she imagines herself wearing a “lavender, taffeta dress.” With this image, she visions herself as a “movie star” and how that contributes to her dream of being a white girl. She states, “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”. She refers to herself as a nuisance to her race, wishing that she was white and saying that she was cursed by a fairy godmother as if this was a fairytale that gone wrong. Afterwards, she trips on the way to the bathroom and pees on herself. This brings great embarrassment to her, adding yet another event to her unfortunate tales of being a southern black girl. Maya was only three years old when she and her brother, Bailey, were sent off to live with their Grandma Annie also known as “Momma” and their Uncle Willie in Stamps, Arkansas. Their parents were newly divorced and this decision made it much easier for the children to live in an environment that was not so broken. Furthermore, their parents sent them there to live in a rural community that could be more fitting for them. However, life in Stamps is not easy for them at all. They witness a many quite sickening incidents that were considered reasonable in the time and place: 1930’s America in the South. For example, Maya and Bailey witness a sheriff talking to Momma. The sheriff warns Momma that she better hide Uncle Willie, since there is suspicion all over town regarding a black man having an intimate relationship with a white woman. The Ku Klux Klan may be coming tonight, so she must hide him very well: “Annie, tell Willie he better lay low tonight. A crazy nigger messes with a white lady today. Some of the boys’ll be coming over later”. Now, this must be traumatizing for Maya and Bailey to watch; just because of their Uncle’s skin color and the “threat” he poses, he could have a good chance of being killed. This moment definitely led Maya to think of Stamps in a whole new different way.
Maya’s time growing up in the South ultimately caused a lot of self-hatred within her. The South is largely known for being conservative and racist, and Maya faced that reality significantly as a child. For example, in Chapter Five, she describes how a few white girls would come into the store to torment Momma and be rowdy and rude. Maya disliked the treatment of black people that she saw throughout Stamps. Stamps really wasn’t the right place for her at all. On the bright side, Maya and her brother did receive a good education from their uncle and Maya fell in love with reading when she read William Shakespeare for the first time. The siblings’ father, Bailey Johnson, re-enters their lives with a bang. He decides to take them to California. Maya and Bailey are so happy to move out of Stamps and astounded that Bailey is their dad since he is tall, sturdy, and has his life together. Instead of bringing them to California he leaves them with their mom in St. Louis. Even with their mother’s good looks, Maya still can’t believe how attractive she was compared to herself. “I was dumbstruck. 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’”. Maya’s time in St. Louis is drastically better than life in Stamps. St. Louis is more diverse and embracing of her. Maya and Bailey live with their grandparents before moving in with their mother. Maya has a little boost of self- confidence and definitely matures as a result of being one of the smartest students in her class. Most importantly, Maya’s relationship with books grows deeper; she reads a lot and gained knowledge. For a while, Maya and Bailey move in with their mom, Vivian and her boyfriend, Mr. Freeman. St. Louis starts to feel more like a deserted place. Everything starts turning around when she lives in their house. Maya’s relationship with Mr. Freeman worsens. One day, when her mom is gone, she wakes up to find Mr. Freeman holding her inappropriately. Maya doesn’t know how to react at all, having never felt this type of way before. She feels pleasure, but at the same is confused as to if this was right. Not realizing that she was being raped at all, she felt like it was all her fault because Mr. Freeman would not come into contact with her after that. Not long after, it would happen again: “For months he stopped speaking to me again. I was hurt and for a time felt lonelier than ever. But then I forget about him, and even the memory of his holding me precious melted into the general darkness just beyond the great blinkers of childhood”. This moment is where the rising action officially begins.
This time with Mr. Freeman’s actions, Maya realizes that she’s being violated inappropriately: “ I hesitated for two reasons: he was holding me too tight to move, and I was sure that any minute my mother or Bailey or the Green Hornet would bust in the door and save me”. She continues, “Then there was the pain. A breaking and entering when even the senses are torn apart. The act of tape on an eight-year-old body is a matter of the needle giving because the camel can’t. The child gives, because the body can, and the mind of the violator cannot”. This incident in Maya’s early stages of her life is where she starts to understand herself and how she is placed in this world. Maya wants to tell someone the incident between her and Mr. Freeman, but she can’t because he threatens that if she tells anyone he’ll kill her brother. Maya, having great admiration for her brother, does not want to put him in any danger, but he still encourages her to tell the truth. After this incident, Mr. Freeman is arrested. Maya spoke against him, having a platform for focusing on she vocalizes her opinion. He is convicted, but is sentenced for just a year in jail. Surprisingly, he gets an early release, but is murdered by someone kicking him to death. Shortly after his death, Maya gets herself into a deep depression because she believes that her interactions with him lead to his death. She stops talking, sinking into a depressed state. She even stops thinking clearly, thinking that there is something wrong with her: “Just my breath, carrying my words out, might poison people and they’d curl up and die like the black fat slugs that only pretended. I had to stop talking”. Unfortunately, she moves back to Stamps to restart her life again, and her brother is not in a good place emotionally as well.
Coping with her depression, Maya mopes around for a long period of time, until she meets her true companion, Ms. Bertha Flowers. Bertha Flowers is an old woman who isn’t quite like anyone else in town at all. She’s quite unique, like an educated renaissance woman, and she reads English novels. Bertha helps Maya a lot with her self-esteem and helps fuel her interest in reading and literature. Bertha really believes in Maya and wants the best for her, offering her much encouragement: “She said she was going to give me some books and that I not only must read them, I must read them aloud. She suggested that I try to make a sentence sound in as many different ways as possible”. Maya adds, “All I cared about was that she made tea cookies for me and read to me from her favorite book.”
Pretty odd events happen to Maya when she is in her early teenage years. She becomes maid, only to help finish her schooling. She works for Mrs. Viola Cullinan, a rich white woman who doesn’t have the best personality. She keeps calling Maya “Mary” which causes the gig not to work out so well. Additionally, she and the family lost Bailey for a few weeks. Eventually, things start to bright up for Maya in her time in Stamps: she makes a friend at last. Her name is Louise. Maya and Louise share secrets together and truly held a favorable friendship.
Maya, now approaches graduation, only eighth grade graduation, but it’s a big deal. The ceremony had its ups and downs, but in the end. Maya ended it with her own self-note, you could shape her as a person once she gets older. Shee praises black poets and black people as a whole, how we changed the spectrum of ourselves from learning from one of other through literature. This shows Maya being more proud of her blackness completely, especially recognizing it at a young age.
Maya moves back to Los Angeles. She is extremely happy that she is in sunny California and back with her mom. She’s doesn’t want any incident like last time to get in her way of her being united with her mom. While living with Vivian, it was quite chaotic like last time. She got heavily involved with partying and violence, as well got married. His name is Daddy Clidell and he’s the first father figure Maya has ever looked up to. He treated her like not even her biological father bothered to. “Unexpectedly, I resembled him, and when he, Mother and I, walked down the street his friends often said, “Clidell that’s sure your daughter. Ain’t no way you can deny her.”
She moves to San Francisco and accepts a scholarship to a rich predominately white school called the California Labor School. She did experience racism once again, one of the only three black students at school. During her time there she was fully supported by Miss Kirwin, who taught her she shouldn’t be ashamed of the color of her skin in whatever environment she’s in. Shortly after, Maya is invited by her father, Daddy Bailey to spend some time with him in Southern California. She is introduced to his girlfriend, Dolores, who doesn’t like her at all. She goes on a trip with them to Mexico and it ends up in a whole fiasco. Once they got back the relationship between all three worsen. Dolores and Daddy Bailey began to argue, and Dolores ends up insulting Vivian, Maya’s mother. Maya reacted to slapping her and Dolores attacked her.
Maya is injured, she feel like she might die. After that traumatic night, she decides to run away and become homeless. This is where the climax happens. She is now living independently, sadly homeless for a long period of time. With that comes a great outcome, Maya starts to feel more confident and being exposed to the great diversity around her. “There was so much curiosity evident in their features that I knew they wouldn’t just go away before they knew who I was, so I opened the door, prepared to give them any story (even the truth) that would buy my peace.”
Maya ends up going back to living with her mother, Vivian and she does not question a thing. Since her life is back to being basic, she decides to look for a job. She is committed to becoming a train conductorette and nothing was going to stop her at all. Finally, she lives the dream of a lifetime becoming the first black woman to be a conductorette in all of San Francisco. “I would have the job. I would be a conductorette and sling a full money changer from my belt. I would.” She goes back to school, but still faces the same prejudice and sexism from her classmates forcing her to skip classes and having no motivation to learn.
During this time in Maya’s life, she’s in her late teens discovering her sexuality. She feels as if she’s lesbian due to the late puberty growth of her body. She couldn’t imagine being a lesbian, so solving that she decides to finds a boyfriend. She makes the plan to have sexual intercourse with a guy from her neighborhood and it was a success. Unfortunately, for her young self she finds out she is pregnant. Maya hides the pregnancy for months, until the end of the year when she graduates high school. She left with only a note to her parents who were okay with the whole thing. Maya gives birth to a baby boy now is involved in the next chapter of her life, adulthood. At the end, she cuddles with her child in a gentle quiet manner falling asleep together.
The theme behind I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Identity. Maya undergoes a lot of change from start to finish, ranging from good to bad to right back to good. Maya struggles with her appearance (Black identity and how it affects her living in than Modern America) and her rape as a child (how it stuck with her and how she could never get over it, even when it comes to her interest in sex/sexuality). Maya is like any other human being, even if she went through traumatic events in such a short period of time, she didn’t know who she was at one point. What is the meaning of Maya Angelou? What’s her purpose it confused her to question herself on the daily.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has caused great impact to African-American Literature and how it relentlessly shows the struggle of black women in marginalized community. The book presents like any human goes through, women of color go through too. Caged Bird greatly influenced Maya’s colleagues such as, James Baldwin and Oprah Winfrey. Even influencing pop culture as well, Alicia Keys released a song called “Caged Bird” off her 2001 album Songs in A Minor. Keys stayed true to the essence of Angelou’s theme. I would gratefully recommend this book to anyone my own age wanting to learn more the issues of race, identity, and trauma.
Maya Angelou and Her Poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou was a writer and a well-known civil rights activist. She is known for her memoir, The Caged Bird Sings. Maya changed the world by fighting for what she believed in. She never gave up and was very positive. She cared for women rights, she was a teacher, she was an amazing poet, dancer, a director, a screenwriter, and an actress. Maya Angelou is still known today for her poems, her civil right movement and caring for women rights. Angelou has accumulated many awards and honors throughout her life, and it’s difficult to put a single label on her legacy. Charismatic and passionate, warm and wise, formidable without being forbidding, American author and poet Maya Angelou died last year aged 86. She was a role model and an activist who recorded and celebrated the experience of being Black in the United States.
Maya Angelou was born Marguerite Johnson on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri to Vivian and Bailey Johnson. Her parents divorced when she was three years old, and as a result Angelou moved around as a child. She was raised in St. Louis and Stamps, Arkansas, and spent much of her childhood being raised by her grandmother. Maya Angelou has done many things in her life that no people would ever think of. When she first dropped out of high school she became the first Black cable car conductor in San Francisco. She has created 12 best-selling books, most of them autobiographies. Maya Angelou has traveled all over the world and done many jobs. She has also worked with Dr. Martin Luther King. In 1993 Maya Angelou read her poem, “On the Pulse of the Morning” at President Bill Clinton’s inauguration. She has done many things, but she is widely known for being a great poet, writer, playwright, and teacher. She was treated with hand-me-down clothes from white women and she was made fun of. Her childhood was also filled sadness. At the young age of eight she was sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend. This terrible ordeal sent her into four years of silence. She would only speak to her brother Bailey. It was during this time that she began reading and getting interested in poetry. She began to talk again because of a teacher that told her to express herself. When Maya started talking again it started a whole new world. Because of her four years of silence Maya got interested and learned to love poetry. This may have been the beginning of her fabulous career.
Angelou won a scholarship to San Francisco’s Labor School to study dance and drama. Although she dropped out briefly when she was fourteen to become the first female cable car conductor in San Francisco, she eventually returned to George Washington High School in San Francisco to graduate. Soon after graduation, Angelou gave birth to her first son, Clyde (later renamed Guy), and worked in restaurants to support her family. The second of her autobiographies, Gather Together in My Name (1974), begins when Angelou is seventeen, picking up where I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ends. Gather Together in My Name portrays Angelou’s struggle for survival as a single black woman raising a young son. The mother to a son, Angelou mentored many “daughters,” some through her work, others personally like Winfrey, who said Angelou “moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace.”
Never hesitant to speak her mind, Angelou passionately defended the rights of women, young people and the ignored. She effortlessly traversed the worlds of literature and activism, becoming a confidante to the original civil rights leaders, their successors and the current generation. “I’ve seen many things, I’ve learnt many things,” Angelou told the Associated Press in 2013. “I’ve certainly been exposed to many things and I’ve learnt something: I owe it to you to tell you.”
Reflecting on her time working alongside Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King as the Northern Coordinator for the movement, Angelou recalled that they speculated on the likelihood of America having a black president together and Angelou predicted that it would not happen in her lifetime. Overjoyed to be proven wrong, at the ripe age of 83 she was one of President Obama’s most ardent supporters, campaigning tirelessly for his election. She continued to speak out on a range of topics throughout her later life, from the polarizing nature of celebrating ‘Black History Month’, to the detrimental effect of black rappers using the ‘N’ word, and reflected on her own life, which was characterized by optimism despite adversity.
Angelou accredited much of her development as a writer to her childhood growing up in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas with her paternal grandmother. Back then it was a town ravaged by racial inequality, affording the young Angelou her first taste of the injustices she would spend a lifetime trying to right. Her grandmother was the only black store holder within a very segregated community, her store was thus a gathering point for the black people in the area. It was here that Angelou first witnessed the strength and spirit of the African-American community when it drew together.
This fueled her involvement with the Black Arts Movement, a highly influential New York-based artistic collective. Unlike the Harlem Renaissance before it, the Black Arts Movement developed after the assassination of Malcolm X and was associated with the Black Power Movement; it therefore embraced a more radical, militant aesthetic. Angelou was one of the seminal figures of this group, primarily involved in the Harlem Writers Guild, along with figures such as Amri Baraka and James Baldwin who together opened doors for greater African-American creativity and empowerment. The assertive nature of much of this creative output inspired later generations to express their outrage at social injustice through creative means. Maya Angelou’s contribution to American culture was recognized by President Obama when she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor in 2011.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou is arguably one of the most moving and eye opening poems ever written. Angelou also wrote an autobiography with this same title, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. It is clear that this title had great significance to Angelou, as it was the title to her entire life story. In her autobiography, she talked about the struggle of being a black author and poet. She often felt that her words were not heard because of the color of her skin. She felt that in some ways, she was still experiencing slavery. Although African American people were free people in Angelou’s time, there were still many restrictions on them in society, making it so that many black Americans did not feel free at all.
This stanza is in stark contrast with the first. By using the word “but” to begin this stanza, the speaker prepares the reader for this contrast. Then she describes the “bird that stalks his narrow cage”. The tone is immediately and drastically changed from peaceful, satisfied, and joyful to one that is dark, unnerving, and even frustrating. She describes that this caged first “can seldom see through his bars of rage”. While the free bird gets to enjoy the full sky, the caged bird rarely even gets a glimpse of the sky. She claims that “his wings are clipped and his feet are tied”. Text from her autobiography reveals that Angelou often felt this way in life. She felt restricted from enjoying the freedom that should have been her right as a human being. The speaker then reveals that these are the very reasons that the bird “opens his throat to sing”.
The author felt this way in her own life. She wrote and sang and danced because it was her way of expressing her longing for freedom. The poem reflects facts of the racial segregation or social discrimination in American society against the black people. Using the metaphors of caged and free birds, Maya Angelou has highlighted the nature of captivity and the importance of American ideals of freedom and liberty. There are two major themes in the poem. The first major theme is given in the first stanza which is freedom. It is given through the image of a free bird which goes wherever it wants, ranging from enjoyment on stream to soaring in the wind. The second theme is captivity that cripples the bird in the cage. This theme goes on in the third stanza and tries to state that the caged bird is forced to sing a song of freedom. Then the free bird again comes into view in the fourth stanza and enjoys life on trade winds, trees and in the width and breadth of the sky. Next stanzas describe the caged bird’s fear while it is trying to sing a tune for its freedom during its bondage.
Maya Angelou was a warrior who struggled all of her life with her womanhood. One of the most captivating features I found out regarding her personality trait was her ever-enduring strength. Even though after encountering so many problems in her life, she never gave up and kept on working hard for the prosperity of her life. I look up to Maya Angelou because I believe that she is a woman of strong character. She teaches us to pick ourselves up through hard times and never lose hope no matter how bad the situation might be.
Being discriminated against for who you are is one of the saddest things somebody can ever feel. She had been a victim of racism for a very long time but she fought back for it and never gave up. She broke the fences and raised her voice through her words. In her poem “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, she uses the symbol of a bird trying to escape its cage as a sign of a person trying to get free himself from the state of racism. How beautifully she managed to spread her message!
Analysis Of The Poem I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings By Maya Angelou
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was written by Maya Angelou and has the same title as her autobiography. As a result, it is clear that this title had great significance to Angelou. Angelou is a Black American who grew up in the South during the Civil Right Movement in the 20th century, and she is expressing her feeling at the discrimination she suffered during her life. This poem is known with its deep meaning of the desire of freedom, as well as its vivid language use and the structure of the stanzas. Angelou wrote this poem in 1969, which is almost the end of the Civil Right Movement (1954-1968). As we all know, the Civil Right Movement worked for the end of the discrimination against African Americans. Before the American Civil War, most of the blacks were slaves, especially in the South. After the Civil War, although Black American had freedom, only Whites had the right to vote, and some places even limited the citizenship to white only. The poem is illustrating the differences between African-Americans and White during the Civil Rights era, and it shows the depth of the feeling of living unfairly. While many African Americans were free during the time when Angelou published this poem, we can know from this poem that African-Americans were still not feeling free. Because of the color of her skin, she often felt that nobody would hear her voice, and she felt she was still experiencing slavery in some ways.
This poem has seven stanzas in total. In the first and second stanza, the author refers to nature and describing the birds fight against the orange sky, which shows the reader the appreciation to the bird in natural habitat. The third and fourth stanza is describing a caged bird beside the free bird that can barely see the sky. The author uses the word “but” to begin the third stanza, which changes the tone of the poem from satisfied and joyful to dark and frustrating. Angelou uses the metaphor of a bird struggling to escape its cage in these two stanzas, as a major symbol throughout her poem. The caged bird represents Angelou’s restriction resulting from discrimination. In the fifth stanza, the author goes back to the free bird and describing more differences between it and the caged bird. She writes that the free bird enjoying “the trade winds soft through the sighing trees”.
The next stanza talked about the real life of the caged bird again. It reveals the author’s feeling about her own dream of ending the discrimination in the United States, and all African-Americans could have the legal recognition. The author uses metaphor again of her cage that made up by discrimination and racism. Although she sang, she felt her voice was not heard in the wide world, but only by those nearest her cage.
The last stanza keeps focusing on the caged bird. “The caged bird sings with a fearful trill; of things unknown but longed for still”. This is the only repeated stanza in this poem, which is the same as the fourth, which means it is very important and significant in this poem. It implies that even though the caged bird has never experienced the freedom, but she still “sing a fearful trill” because she is created for freedom. In the first three stanzas, there is only two line of rhyme, which is “cage” and “rage” at the beginning of the second stanza.
The fourth stanza repeated “-ill” sound in its first three lines, which is also an onomatopoeia that imitating the birdsong. There are two different rhymes in the next stanza. One rhyme is “breeze” and “trees” in the “The free bird thinks of another breeze; and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees and the next line “And the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn, and he names the sky his own”. The sixth stanza, which is also the only repeated stanza in this poem, include one rhyme-“dreams” and “scream” in the beginning two line. “But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams; his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream”.
The poem is one big metaphor, saying the Black Americans are the bird in the cage. For example, the author writes in the second stanza, “His wings are clipped and his feet are tied; so he opens his throat to sing”. This text personifies the ability of twittering of bird and gives a vivid description of the caged bird. Besides, this sentence uses metaphor to compare caged bird to African Americans fighting for equality during the Civil Right Movement. The author uses the caged bird to describe the blacks, who did not have their rights and ability to do what they want. They endure the unfair treatment just like the bird in the cage. The sentence describes the bird is singing in the cage, which represents the African-Americans as well as she herself. On the other hand, it shows us that even though white people exclude the black and even caged them, they cannot stop the blacks to understand they are meant to be free, to help others and help themselves. Maya Angelou tells everyone through her poem that there are still a lot of blacks suffering the unfair treatment today. She points out the life of black people to attract people’s attention, and she hopes the discrimination toward African American could stop soon.
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/>.