Maya Angelou I Know why the Caged Bird Sings Essay (Critical Writing)

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

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.

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