I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou labeled as a feminist writer as well as being an African-American autobiographer
set out to change all the opinionated barriers set by society towards blacks, women, and the poor. Through
her childhood as well as her young womanhood she has faced hardships, growing up in Stamps, Arkansas
divided by the color barrier Angelou has used these experiences as the backbone of her best writing.
Brought up by her grandmother who raised her as well as her older brother Baily Jr. with a strong sense of
religion and respect towards all. One of the major barriers or “cages” expressed in her autobiography is the
racial barrier felt as she was growing up in a divided town. Another cage she faced was the fact that she
was being a woman, which put her at an even more disadvantage.Throughout the most part of her
childhood these two cages were the most prominent ones although there were many other barriers which
held her down. In the autobiography she recounts her feelings !
growing up and being restrained by certain cultural and gender based biases.

Angelous childhood in Stamps, Arkansas a relatively poor town for the blacks in the
neighborhood. The Maya character growing up was impressed by the field workers that would constantly
pass through her grandmothers grocery store, with the suffering of their ill paid work. Right from the start
of the novel Angelou demonstrates a humanistic sympathy for the Southern blacks. When Maya was a
young girl growing up, her brother Baily brought her to see a Kay Francis movie where she was relegated
to the colored balcony. In her early adolescence Maya had a great concern for equality and self-
determination for the black race, which took precedence over forging friendships, receiving love notes,
exchanging valentines, sizing up a male admirer, and completing the eight grade. Even from early on
Angelou had a strong sense in her culture which is in part from her strong cultural grandmother. Most of
all Maya shows sympathy towards the poor Southern field workers, who struggled agai!
nst low wages, long hours, and soul wearying drudgery. One of her childhood fantasies was one day to
wake up and be white, so she wouldnt have to deal with the constant presence of prejudices. A very clear
example of racism that she faced was when she had a tooth ache and went to see a white dentist, but with
cruelty and lack of professionalism of a dentist refused her medical attention because of her race.

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Although she never overcame her being black, she as well as the nation learned to cope with
blacks. As a result of her experiences in the South with racism she was able to have an idea to relay to the
readers nowadays who could not possibly fathom what took place in the south at the peak of racism. Today,
Angelou is renowned as being an writer, activist, poet, historian, singer, actor, and storyteller. Without
living such a past as she has she would not be the very well endowed person that she is today. Her life
story in a broader sense would not have been the same if not for growing up in the south and encountering
such events would make her life too humdrum and mundane. Her blend of talents and energies renders her
uniquely suited to a variety of self directed projects.

The second cage that was well expressed in her novel was her being a woman. It was very hard
for her growing up a girl because she lacked physical beauty and was not being recognized by the boys like
many of her friends. One of the biggest episodes in her life that dealt with her being a woman was when
she was sexually abused and raped by Mr. Freeman who was at the time her mothers boyfriend. This event
changed her complete thinking as a child. She spoke out about being raped and as a result Mr. Freeman
was killed, she felt liable for this and as a result decided to never talk to anyone again with the exception
because she was afraid of harming someone else. She eventually started talking again due to the help of
Mrs. Flowers. Maya plagued by nightmares and at times longed to be a boy. Before being raped she used
to have some sympathy for her crippled Uncle Willie, but after she rejects his pity and sympathy of a

Just like the previous explanation for the first cage she coped with her feminineness. Eventually
as she approached maturity she became more aggressive as well as being more willing to take risks to
establish her independence. Maya in her adolescence yearned for some kind of success and proof of
womanhood. As a result for this yearning for proof she mated with a neighborhood boy. This single
intimacy left her pregnant with her son. Trusting to faulty logic she thought that since she was able to bear
a baby that she obviously wasnt a lesbian. Through a misguided feeling she was left with a son, but
eventually he produced a sense of satisfaction that she sought throughout her rough and turbulent

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelous first venture into autobiograpy, is, like the
author herself, packed with promise. Like most autobiographies, the story line follows the authors
memories, which are interpretations of past events. As evidence that she has experienced the typical
struggle for freedom and self worth, she gives the impression of confessing all triumphs and shortcomings,
even scenes and events which a more discreet author might have concealed from her public view.
Angelous life has been a struggle coping with the being a black woman in the South being taken advantage
of by white people as well as black people. Feeling helpless and lost not knowing who to trust she finds a
friend in Mrs. Flowers who helps her out tremendously by opening her eyes to literature such as Dickens,
Shakespeare, and other well known authors. The positive tone of her work uplifts the reader with a
renewed belief in the human ability to ease random in justice in order t!
o survive. By growing stronger than the challenges plagued her, Maya completes the coming of age and
arrives at adulthood, with her dignity intact and her promise assured.


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