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.
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