I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (1st post)

After reading the first quarter of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I am thoroughly intrigued! Though not much has happened in the plot thus far, Angelou’s writing style both captures the interest of the reader, but is yet very poetic. The majority of these first seventy pages has been oriented towards characterization and setting descriptions; this is really valuable to setting the stage for the book especially because, like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, Maya is young at the time of the novel. The accurate and specific descriptions give much life to the story, which is necessary to prove the authenticity of her memories.

Since the novel began, only a few minor plot events have taken place. The majority of the first quarter is describing the life of her and her brother, Bailey, living with their grandmother and uncle in Stamps, Arkansas after their parents divorce. Maya describes the way that she and her family interacted with the community, especially the “powhitetrash,” and also discusses her self-image at the time; this is shocking to the reader considering how young she was. I’m interested to see how her self-esteem changes as the novel goes on, because at the moment it is very low. She even describes how ugly she thinks she is and goes on to say that she though she was “really white and a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me 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” (4-5). It is descriptions like this that make the majority of the characters very relatable and realistic.

Though the primary focus of this section of the novel has been characterization, a couple important plot events occurred, including Maya’s father coming to take her and Bailey to live with their mother in St. Louis. Although it is wonderful that the children got to be with their father and are now living with their mother, this transition made me sad to read. Not only were they moved from California to Stamps during the time of their parent’s divorce, but now they are being uprooted again to go live with a family that they thought abandoned them; Maya describes in regards to her mother that she understood “why she had sent me away. She was too beautiful to have children” (59). However harsh their relationships were with Momma and Uncle Willy, the kids loved them and it made me upset to have to watch that goodbye. They had to pack up their lives and go live with a stranger they call Mother Dear.

Because of the way the book seems to be headed, I think both children will develop strong and loving relationships with their new family and will benefit from being in St. Louis. I am very excited to see what Angelou has left to say! Her writing is absolutely captivating and I can’t wait to read more.



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18 responses to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (1st post)

  1. katieoppenheimer1

    Margo, I am also captivated by I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I was drawn to read the novel by a previous experience with Maya Angelou’s writing. Four years ago, my sister burst into my room waving a piece of paper. Accustomed to my sister’s abrupt entrances, I calmly looked up. My sister brandished a piece of paper at me, and demanded that I read it. Recognizing the unmistakable signs of a poem, I resisted her demand, citing some homework that I had to finish. At the time, I believed poems to be incomprehensible groupings of words created to confuse and disorient the reader, and I avoided them at all cost. Despite my protests against reading the poem, my sister persisted, and eventually I surrendered. The poem, which is now one of my favorite poems, was Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. Reading it revealed to me the beauty and power of poetry, and forever changed my perspective of poems. No longer was poetry a dangerous enigma to be avoided, but a form of art that frees the reader from the constraints of correctness and accuracy. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings holds the same elegance and vibrant sense of life as I found in Phenomenal Woman. It is free of the trite messages, forced emotions, and tired mantras that litter the pages of many novels that explore maturation and racial inequality. Maya Angelou neither romanticizes nor inflates the hardships she endured, but gives a vivid and authentic recollection of a her life.

    The first quarter of the novel familiarizes the reader with Maya Angelou’s character, illustrating her insightfulness and independent spirit; and builds a detailed picture of Stamps, the town where Maya and her brother live with their grandmother. Like you noted Margo, no conspicuous conflicts or major plot upheavals occur in the first section of the novel. The first chapters have the steady tempo of everyday life. For Maya, this is going to church, working in her grandmother’s store, and reading. But the first part of the book should not be deemed as inconsequential. Entwined with the reminiscences of apparently mundane events, Maya Angelou gives brief glimpses into the despair, immorality, racism, and brutality to which she was exposed in her childhood. One of these glimpses, which you noted Margo, is given through Maya’s desperate fantasy that “one day I woke out of my black ugly dream, and my real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass… My light-blue eyes were going to hypnotize them,” (Angelou 4-5). Even as a young child, Maya has been subconsciously impacted by racism. The racial superiority existent in Maya’s town has corrupted her view of her own worth. She has formed a hatred for herself at a very young age, and has adopted the belief that her race makes her undesirable, stupid, and inferior. It was painful to read this section of the novel, as Maya is so young, and yet the prejudices have already crept inside her head, and caused her to turn against herself.

    Later in the novel, Maya Angelou makes the remark: “Black children didn’t really, absolutely know what whites looked like, other than that they were different, to be dreaded, and in that dread was included the hostility of the powerless against the powerful, the poor against the rich, the worker against the worked for, and the ragged against the well dressed,” (25). Maya Angelou’s description of the opinions carried by the blacks about the whites was extremely striking, as it depicts the severance between the two races, which goes much farther than the physical separation imposed by segregation. The separation between the races in Stamps is so complete that black children do not see whites as people, or in any way similar to them. They see white people only as the unknown, but ever-present force that has the power, wealth, and control. The children are taught to fear whites, based on the long conflict and struggle between the two races. These significant occurrences and observations, which Maya Angelou blends in with the retelling of her everyday life, give the reader a raw and genuine depiction of the life of a young black girl.

    I want to comment on the characters in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Maya Angelou deftly forms each character, each with distinctive personalities and complexities, with the detail in which she saw them. Maya’s opinions and observations of each character are discerning, and develop both the character being scrutinized and Maya herself. As the book continues, I hope to see Maya’s character develop further.

    The chapter section ends with Maya and her brother Bailey adjusting to their new life in St. Louis. Continuing the reading, I am curious to see whether the adversities Maya faces in the large city of St. Louis will be different than those she faced in the provincial setting of Stamps. I agree with you Margo, I believe Maya and her brother will form a strong relationship with their mother despite their long separation.

    Throughout these first few chapters of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou has created a evocative and captivating story. So far, I have found Maya Angelou’s autobiography to be every bit as beautiful and thought provoking as I did her poem Phenomenal Woman (which I suggest you read if you haven’t already). I look forward to continuing reading and discussing the novel. Hooray for great books! See you Monday!

  2. margosidline

    Beautifully said, Katie!!

  3. hadleycorwin

    It is a challenge to adeptly follow up what has already been eloquently said by both of you, Margo and Katie, and I agree with everything you two so beautifully put into words in response to the first quarter of Maya Angelou’s, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. As Katie has done, I would like to briefly give some background to my previous encounters with Angelou’s works. Last year, one of my friends recited Angelou’s, “And Still I Rise,” by in a drama presentation. Angelou’s perpetual defiance of the entrapments forced upon her by her race, gender, and class is an admirable concept I heard in that poem and find now as I read her autobiography.

    Katie and Margo, I admire and agree with both of your notes about the demeaned self-worth that Angelou faces as a young black girl early in the autobiography. When Momma is making Angelou’s Easter dress, Angelou imagines that she will, “look like one of the sweet white girls who were everybody’s dream of what was right in the world… but Easter’s early morning sun had shown the dress to be a plain ugly cut-down from a white woman’s once-was-purple throwaway” (Angelou, 2). Angelou’s deft perception of the value people had for white girls, even at such an early age, shows the tangible, influential racial prejudices of her Southern upbringing. I believe the racial biases she encounters cause her to feel even more unwanted, in a community where she already feels out of place. As you both have pointed out, I agree that Angelou’s self-esteem is severely impacted by the racial system in place within her community.

    Since we have recently finished To Kill A Mockingbird, I found myself noticing similarities between the two books. Both are set in small, Southern towns in a time period where Black people were heavily discriminated against. However, the fundamental difference between the two young central female characters is their race. This one factor makes them as different as night and day, despite their many similarities. One instance that shows the complete segregation of Stamps is when Angelou shares her childish perspective of white people, “These others, the strange pale creatures that lived in their alien unlife, weren’t considered folks. They were whitefolks” (26). It is ironic that Scout Finch’s observation about “folks” should be almost the complete opposite of Angelou’s view as she states that she thinks there is only one type of folks, folks.

    I agree with Katie that it was interesting to see Maya’s character develop through her observations of others. As a note on Angelou’s writing style in general, I was overjoyed to see that the vivid imagery and expressive language Angelou applies splendidly in her poems is also found in her autobiography.

    Although you both have mainly positive expectations for Maya and Bailey’s time in St. Louis, I am concerned that the city may prove too drastic a change from the small, close community of Stamps. And, I wonder what will ultimately determine when, and if, the children leave the bustling city to return to Stamps. I hope that Bailey and Maya can form loving bonds with their long-lost mother as both of you predict. However, I am concerned that their mother is too dissimilar and unreal to ever be brought down to a level where she and her children are able to connect on a familiar level.

    I am looking forward to further discussing this beautiful novel with both of you. I loved reading your insightful comments and getting to respond to your thoughts!

  4. margosidline

    I’m looking forward to it too! xo

  5. katieoppenheimer1

    Section 2

    Hello again Margo and Hadley! We have discussed the second section briefly, as the events in the section made it impossible not to, but I look forward to analyzing it further and hearing more of your thoughts and interpretations of the book. You are both so insightful and it is great to be able to discuss such a wonderful book with two wonderful people. Especially two wonderful people who don’t mind reading my strange ramblings ☺ (Look I figured out how to create the smiley face!) ☺ ☺ ☺ ☺ Anyways, moving on.

    The events in the second quarter of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings further illustrate the beauty of Maya Angelou’s writing, and the strength of her character. Just a couple pages after the end of the first section, the steady tempo of Maya’s life, which we all noted in the previous blog, abruptly changed with her introduction to the city and all the characteristics of city life. She and her brother are uprooted from their stable home and thrown, without regard to the effect the change would have on the children, into the strange life of St. Louis. This disregard of a child’s opinions and thoughts is recurrent in the novel. As little children, they were sent away to their grandmother because their mother and father could not handle the responsibility of children. Then again, Maya and Bailey are forced to leave their home and head to the city because of their mother’s wish. The adults seem to view the children as objects that can be moved around at the adult’s convenience. To them, the child deserves no autonomy or voice in the decisions that change their lives. Maya eloquently describes the interactions between adults and children stating, “It was the same old quandary. I had always lived in it. There was an army of adults, whose motives and movements I just couldn’t understand and who made no effort to understand mine,” (73). I can understand Maya’s plight. As a young child, I would stand next to adults, whether they were teachers, coaches, or parents, as they discussed me. It was confusing that they would talk about me without including me; I could understand everything they were saying, but they acted like I was not there. It was as if we existed in two separate worlds.

    In the previous post, we all wondered how St. Louis would differ from Stamps, and the effect it would have on Maya and Bailey. From the reading of the second section of the novel, the two environments appear to be polar opposites. While life in Stamps is repetitive and simple, and the people ignorant to the greater world, life in St. Louis is chaotic and filled with recklessness and the people seemingly sophisticated. But when analyzed beyond the superficial, the two societies, despite their apparent dissimilarity, hold many similar qualities. What differs between the small town and the city is the manner in which those societal characteristics are realized. In both societies, hatred, cruelty, anger, despair, and immorality, are woven among the mundane. The great energy of St. Louis, given off as dancing, laughter, flushing toilets, slamming doors, music blasting from radios, merely hides the suffering that exists in the city. In the same way, the dusty silence of Stamps, assumed to be peace by observers, conceals the iniquities and despair that exist in the small southern town. Hidden behind the doors in St. Louis, a young girl is raped; concealed in the dust of Stamps is the oppression of an entire race. Stamps and St. Louis illustrate the inherent similarities between societies, even those that seem different in every aspect, and convey that no society is free of immorality or cruelty.

    While in the city, Maya is subject to the degeneracy of St. Louis when she is raped by Mr. Freeman. After reading those pages, I felt sick; shocked and disgusted that such a thing could happen, especially to an eight-year-old girl. What person rapes a child? How can one heal from such an experience? Through the telling of her experience, Maya Angelou illustrates how rape harms the victim both externally, in the violation of their body, and internally, through the lasting fears and beliefs the experience instills in them. Maya longed for the love and affection of a father. In the innocent and loving way of a child, she interpreted Mr. Freeman’s actions to be the fatherly affection she craved. She says, “He held me so softly that I wished he wouldn’t ever let me go. I felt at home. From the way he was holding me I knew he’d never let me go or let anything bad ever happen to me,” (72). It is painful to see a child’s pure want for love and safety taken advantage of by an adult in such a warped and perverse way. By raping Maya, Mr. Freeman ripped away Maya’s innocence, and exposed her to the cruelty and depravity that exists in society. The consequences of the abrupt exposure are severe. Maya feels guilty and ashamed of herself. She believes that she is tainted, and a poisonous influence on those who surround her. She even forces herself to stop talking believing that “Just my breath, carrying my words out, might poison people,” (86). Even months after the rape, when she is once again safely ensconced in the uneventful environment of Stamps, the internal damage the rape had on Maya are shown. When love is brought up in a conversation with her friend, Maya thinks, “ There was that hateful word again. That treacherous word that yawned up at you like a volcano,” (142). Maya’s experience has made her fear love.

    I was also interested in Mr. Freeman’s character. Mr. Freeman committed a terrible act that harmed Maya in a way that cannot be bandaged or treated with medicine, and will not simply disappear with time. Yet, I do not hate Mr. Freeman. I want to, knowing the vile act he committed, but instead, I feel a repulsed pity towards him, disgusted at his perverted actions, and pitying of his weak character. But I think that is where the true power of Maya Angelou’s story and writing lies. She did not want to provoke hatred in the reader, for hatred only propagates hateful actions, which are destructive and do nothing to cure the flaws in society. This is shown in the actions of Maya’s uncles. They kill Mr. Freeman, in retribution for his actions, but that did nothing to alleviate the suffering Maya endured from his actions, only making her feel more guilt and shame. Maya Angelou sends a powerful message in the way she depicts Mr. Freeman and urges the reader to react in such situations. You have heard my thoughts, how do you view Mr. Freeman?

    Looking outside of the plot of the book, Maya Angelou’s ability to heal from such an experience, and retell it is remarkable. My admiration for her as an author and an individual has only grown since starting I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Only a talented author and exceptional woman could write about their rape in such a way that it communicates the pain and suffering the experience causes, but also illustrates the possibility of healing.

    My favorite part of the section was when Maya rebelled against her being renamed by her white employer. She states, “Mrs. Cullinan was right about one thing. My name wasn’t Mary,” The second section focused on the development of Maya’s character and her maturation. Her traumatic experience with Mr. Freeman illustrated her resilience and great strength,. Her unwillingness to conform to Mrs. Cullinan’s whims and accept the unjust treatment vividly shows Maya’s courage and independent spirit. Maya will not silently bear the oppressive treatment like her fellow townspeople. She will fight to retain her freedom and identity.

    I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is amazing. Maya Angelou is amazing. That is really the only possible way to express how incredible the book is. Oh and happy early Thanksgiving! I am thankful such awesome people like you exist, who are as excited to discuss and read books as I am. I can’t wait to further discuss the novel with you guys!

  6. margosidline

    Hello again ladies!

    I feel very inclined to jump right into the the analysis, and I find it too large a challenge to discuss anything except for the Maya’s rape. Although there is so much to comment on in this section, I think that those scenes with Mr. Freeman were the most pivotal parts of not only this section, but what I’m assuming will be the entire book.

    Like you Katie, my repulsion towards Mr. Freeman is one of a pitying nature. Not only is this man described to be a slave to Mother Dear’s good looks and charm, but he is very clearly ill. When Maya describes the first encounter of him “holding her” in the bed, I have to admit I was very confused and had to read the passage again several times before I realized that he was holding her as he pleasured himself. What I found very interesting about that first interaction is the love that Maya felt towards him in that moment. I connected that feeling of being loved to her lack of a stable home environment. She is eight years old and has already been moved 3 times, from her mother and father, to Momma, and then to her grandmother and eventually Mother Dear and Mr. Freeman. (I personally count the transition from grandmother to Mother Dear as one move due to the proximity of which it took place and the continued relationships between all involved.) Because she has been bounced around so much, she has such low self esteem and thinks that she is unloved, even describing earlier that she understands why her mother would not want her: she was too ugly. When Mr. Freeman held her closely in that moment, she felt important and loved through that physical connection. This feeling further added to her confusion about her relationship with him.

    Another thing I found striking about this scene is the guilt that Mr. Freeman seemed to feel. He almost seems to hate this part of himself, which I attribute to the illness of his. Though he knows that this is wrong, he cannot seem to help himself which adds another layer to his otherwise disgusting character. Though I would never defend what happened to Maya, I am deeply saddened that he is in that position too. After the court scene, I was absolutely horrified by one detail in particular, that he was only sentenced to a year and a day. He caused Maya major emotional trauma, as we see when she decides to stop speaking, but he hurt her. She describes how much pain she felt after he raped her and how she could not walk correctly. For a young child, that type of pain will always be engraved in her mind, and will cause a new outlook towards her sexuality later in life. The fact that all of this happened and continues to happen to Maya is horrific and he only has to serve a year and one day. This is shocking to me, and frankly not okay; not to mention that after the sentencing it took little effort on his attorney’s part to get him out of that sentence before it even began. Because of this, I am not ashamed to say that I was relieved when he turned up dead. (YAY UNCLES!)

    I also want to emphasize the impact that Maya’s vow of silence has had on the novel thus far. Until I really thought about it, I did not seem to notice a difference between the way this section and the last section of the novel were told. However, this silence is affecting her self image and the way others view her immensely. As a child it is important to be able to outwardly express yourself, and because of the guilt and anguish she feels, she is afraid to indulge in that expression which is overall detrimental to her well being. I am very interested to see how this will develop throughout the rest of the novel, and if her sworn silence will last into her teen years and even adulthood.

    On that happy note, I am loving reading this novel, despite its heavy subject matter. I think this topic should be more strongly discussed in our society instead of shying away from it. Maya is such an eloquent writer and is thoughtful and consistent throughout the piece; it is truly a joy to read. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I do! Have a great Thanksgiving, and have a relaxing week off! xx

  7. hadleycorwin

    Hello, Margo and Katie!

    I can’t believe we are already halfway through this book, it is such a riveting story and Angelou’s powerful, and fluid language makes it an even more absorbing read. I am constantly in awe of Angelou’s ability to convey her life’s story in such an authentic way. Also, I am glad to have such thoughtful and honest ladies to respond to! It is always a pleasure to read and discuss your insightful analyses ☺

    Right off the bat, Angelou describes Saint Louis as feeling like a “foreign city.” I think immediately this puts her in a vulnerable position; not only is Angelou expected to please her mother and her mother’s friends, she is forced to adapt to a completely new culture. I like Katie’s note on the fundamental similarities between the two cities, I agree that the outward appearance of the towns masks the oppression that takes place behind closed doors. However, there are definitely some distinct differences between the two. The main aspect I saw that was not a superficial difference was the overarching lack of religion in St. Louis. Most of the residents of Stamps base their life on Christian values, which helps strengthen the close-knit community by creating rules and standards for living that everyone agrees on. It was interesting to see that this same sense of community does not exist in St. Louis.

    Although this section of the book was admittedly horrific and disturbing at some parts, I also thought it was more powerful and even engaging than the first. I found myself being put in Maya Angelou’s place, a child essentially alone in the bizarre and mysterious city of St. Louis, full of oddities such as packaged foods and flushing toilets. Angelou was already mentally affected before becoming a rape victim as she “[sweat] through horrible nightmares” (72). Ironically, her mental state is what causes her to be subject to further mental and physical abuse; this is why she originally sleeps in her Mother and Mr. Freedman’s bed.

    The brutality of Maya’s rape and how it shaped her character and warped her perspective on love was incredibly influential to me. Reading about how Angelou was sexually abused at 8 years old by her mother’s boyfriend was shocking: both the act itself and society’s response to the crime repulsed me.

    On this note, I would like to briefly discuss the outrageous response to rape that I witnessed in Angelou’s community. As far as I can tell, no one explained to Maya what she had gone through, what sex and rape are, and what Mr. Freedman had done to her and why. She thinks that she is at fault, rather than Mr. Freedman, due to the mockery of the judge during the rape case and the vagueness around why Mr. Freedman was killed. This was frustrating to me, I wanted to help her understand what was going on, for someone to sit down with her and explain what the elusive “it” is and what the “things” they do “it” with are.

    Like both of you have said, I do not feel hatred towards Mr. Freedman though I do have a strong hatred towards the immense pain and suffering that he inflicted on the young girl. Instead, through Angelou’s incredibly personal writing style, I began to fear him. It seemed to me like Mr. Freedman had an intense craving or desire for attention, just like Maya. When he rapes Maya for the second time, it is like he is feeding an addiction, as if he mentally could not bear to leave Maya alone. Like Margo, I thought of Mr. Freedman’s death as appropriate, relieved that justice had been dealt, despite the unfair jail sentence. Again, however, I am appalled at the lack of explanation Angelou is given. Instead of being happy that her oppressor is dead, she feels that she is to blame for a man’s death. This only adds to her guilt and confusion and she responds by severing her communication with the world. Rather than helping her heal and trying to understand why she has chosen to stop talking, she “was called impudent and [her] muteness sullenness”(88). Later, she believes that she was sent back to Stamps because her St. Louis family got fed up with her “grim presence,” only adding to her feelings of abandonment.

    I also found it intriguing that Angelou chose not to say how her mother reacted to finding out that her boyfriend was a rapist and then was murdered. I think this reflects Maya’s sentiments towards her mother at the time; she simply does not care what her mother thinks about Mr. Freedman. However, it was still interesting as the reader to not have her mother’s perspective on the whole issue.

    Going forward, I hope to see how Angelou is able to rehabilitate and overcome the adversities of her past. I wonder how she will recover, and how her traumatic childhood will help or harm her in the long-term. One instance where I could see Angelou beginning to emerge from her cloud shame and humiliation she retained from her traumatic experience in St. Louis was in her interaction with Mrs. Flowers. Mrs. Flowers’s kindness and compassion towards Maya gave me hope for young Angelou; it was fascinating to watch as she discovered the power of poetry. Forgive me, that sounds a bit cliché, but I believe poetry does possess an immense power that will aid Maya’s healing process. Maya is now able to seek refuge in poetry, and her self-confidence has been boosted by the attention and care Mrs. Flowers has bestowed upon her. This makes me optimistic for Angelou’s future, as does her humorous yet meaningful experience with Mrs. Cullinan, which Katie explored.

    Only half of the book left! I am anxious to uncover what is in store for Maya as she matures, and can’t wait to discuss it with both of you! Enjoy the break and happy Thanksgiving! ☺

  8. hadleycorwin

    Hello Katie and Margo,
    Hope you had a lovely weekend!

    For me, the third quarter of Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was an engaging read: undoubtedly less horrific than the last section but no less insightful, rich with detail, and influential. Of course, the incident with Mr. Freedman will continue to affect Maya throughout the course of the book and will always be one of the central events of her life. However, in the 3rd quarter of the autobiography Maya explores African American Identity, the oppression of white people in the Southern United States, and the complicated process of maturation, all pivotal concepts that define her just as much as being a rape victim.

    I was happy to see Maya making friends with Louise and receiving some positive attention from the mysterious Tommy! I believe that friendly interactions with people outside her immediate family can be only beneficial for Maya in the long term, just as Mrs. Flower’s attention was. Her newfound social stability gives me hope that she will gain more self-confidence and become more sure of herself in the future.

    We already briefly expressed our shock at Bailey and Joyce’s little affair. It was a bit disturbing to read as Maya’s idol, only eleven years old, loses his virginity to Joyce, a girl four years older than him. Although I was extremely annoyed and a little mad at Joyce for taking Bailey’s innocence at such a young age, I could not be too mad at her (since, as we have seen, there are far worse ways to be introduced to sex.) The impact that Joyce and on Bailey was particularly intriguing, he seemed to love her and the attention she gave him in the same way that Maya loved Mr. Freedman at first. In Joyce, he found stable affection. Additionally, I feel sorry for Joyce: perhaps something in her past caused her to feel unloved and she reacts by “doing it” with many boys, eventually even running off with a railway worker while still in her early or mid teens. After Joyce leaves, the effect is seen on both Bailey and Maya, Bailey becomes reserved and moody which in turn makes Maya sad and causes her to wish Joyce would come back to restore Bailey’s good spirits. Bailey and Joyce’s relationship allows the reader to get a better understanding of Maya and Bailey’s relationship. Bailey protects Maya, but is older and more mature than her, while Maya constantly vies for Bailey’s attention.

    Mr. Taylor and his frightening, though unrealistic, story of his wife returning as a ghost was an example of Angelou’s superb writing style. When Maya describes seeing Mrs. Taylor’s dead body at the funeral she paints the scene beautifully, even though she is talking about something as somber and melancholy as a funeral, “the scent of decay was sweet and clasping. it groped for life with a hunger both greedy and hateful. but it was hypnotic”(162). Later, after Mr. Taylor’s story of his ghost-wife is over, Maya says, “shadows which had lengthened and darkened over the bed in the corner had disappeared or revealed themselves as dark images of familiar chairs and such” (168). Though more metaphoric than literal, I believe this is a gorgeous way of illustrating Maya’s relief that the frightening story is over.

    The last thing I would like to discuss in this blog post is the incredibly moving scene at Maya Angelou’s eighth-grade graduation. After hearing the white man’s ominous and discouraging speech, Maya says, “I should like to see us all dead, one on top of the other. A pyramid of flesh with the whitefolks on the bottom, as the broad base, then the Indians with their silly tomahawks and teepees and wigwams and treaties, the Negroes with their mops and recipes and cotton sacks and spirituals sticking out of their mouths…As a species, we were an abomination. All of us” (181). This quote speaks to the immense and passionate disgust Maya feels for the way people treat each other, and the inequitable ranking system established by society. She is so horrified at humanity that she would like to see everyone dead, their stereotypes rotting in the pyramid of humankind. Maya’s view of the world reveals how hideous humankind can be, and how influential prejudiced, spiteful words are.

    After the horrible, hope-crushing speech is given by the white man and Maya is completely fed up with humanity, her mood changes completely. Patrick Henry gives his valedictorian speech and the entire African American community sings “Lift ev’ry voice and sing” by James Weldon Johnson. The music and words are so moving that, “the tears that slipped down many faces were not wiped away in shame. We were on top again…The depths had been icy and dark, but now a bright sun spoke to our souls. I was no longer simply a member of the proud graduating class of 1940; I was a proud member of the wonderful, beautiful Negro race” (184). The hope and overwhelming joy conveyed in these words is inspiring, Maya goes from hating everyone to celebrating the African American community’s strength against many adversities. In this instance, the power of words is explored, once again. Words are able to strip down one’s self-worth, to restore one’s hope in his or her community, to heal one’s mind from a troubled past.

    Witnessing Maya’s journey is a privilege and I can’t wait to hear from you both.
    See you tomorrow!

  9. margosidline

    Beautifully written, Hadley! I too greatly enjoyed this section, even though, like you mentioned, it was not as seemingly necessary to the plot. I think this might be the most important section of the book, because this is when Maya truly beings to heal.

    I found a great deal of importance in the introductions of Mrs. Flowers, Joyce, Tommy, and Louise to the story. Though these characters may not seem all that relevant, the very fact that they are mentioned on numerous occasions shows that Maya is again participating in her own life instead of shrinking into herself like she did after Mr. Freeman raped her. This is not heavily emphasized by Maya, but this reintroduction to life in Stamps is maybe the most necessary step to her recovery. What saddens me about this is that soon after she is beginning to feel whole again, she is suddenly uprooted AGAIN due to the heavy racism making an appearance in Maya and Bailey’s lives.

    There are three key moments of racism which I interpreted as the motivations for the transition to California: the speech at graduation (which you mentioned, Hadley), the evil dentist visit, and Bailey’s encounter with the reactions of white men to a dead black man. These scenes occur within such a short span of the book, that I cannot fathom the move being coincidental. It seems to me that Momma’s enigmatic wisdom tells her that tensions are rising and that Maya and Bailey need to be relocated for their well-being. Like Maya says, we may never know The Truth for the move, but my instincts and love for Momma tell me that these incidents are heavily influential on the decision to move in the first place.

    I cannot stress enough how detrimental this move is to Maya. It is not necessarily being with her mother and her mother’s family again that is concerning, thought that does not provide much comfort, but the act of the move itself. In the time that we as readers have known Maya, she has been moved to be with Momma in the first place, then to St. Louis at her grandmother’s house, then St. Louis at her mother’s house, then back to Stamps, then to Los Angeles, California with Momma, then to the apartment in Oakland, then to Mother and Daddy Clidell’s apartment in San Francisco. No wonder these children feel so insecure and confused! This much moving not just between houses, but between family members can be so harmful to a child’s mental well-being, especially from such a young age. It saddened me to much to read about this move.

    This is also harmful to Maya’s recovery, in my opinion. After being raped, moving back to the familiarity of Stamps was a huge comfort to Maya and set her off on a path of success. Momma and Uncle Willie’s familiar harsh ways of life were a comfort to Maya, as this is where she grew up. Thought as a family unit they do not outwardly display their love for one another, they as a family are very affectionate towards one another. This stable home environment is what enables Maya to become a participant in society, and just as she is beginning to blossom, this life is ripped out from under her. I find this truly tragic.

    Before I finish, I have to note a few bits of this section (and the end of the last one) that I absolutely loved:
    -the scene of Louise and Maya becoming friends…. “I liked her for being able to fall in the sky and I admit it.” “After a few near tumbles into eternity we laughed at having played with death and destruction and escaped.”
    -“…After all, girls have to giggle, and after being a woman for three years I was about to become a girl.”
    -“‘I don’t believe you meant to hurt my feelings so whether you answer or not you will always be my valentine.'”
    -“I was going to be lovely. A walking model of all the various styles of fine hand sewing…”
    -Bailey giving her the Edgar Allen Poe book
    -“Owens and the Brown Bomber were great heroes in our world, but what school official in the white-goddom of Little Rock had the right to decide that those two men must be out only heroes?”
    -singing the “Negro national anthem”
    -“The trip was uneventful except that she put her arm around me, which was very unusual for Momma to do.”
    -the 2:30 a.m. kitchen party

    I am excited to read more! Love discussing this wonderful book with you two intelligent ladies. Have a great night.

  10. hadleycorwin

    I loved those parts too! Have a great night, Margo 🙂

  11. katieoppenheimer1

    Hello again Margo and Hadley! Sorry my post is kind of late, this weekend has gone by so quickly, I can’t believe tomorrow is Monday. Sigh… anyways, to the discussion. Once again, your posts are excellent and incredibly insightful, and inspired me to think more deeply about the novel, and view certain aspects with a different perspective.

    One part of this section which was particularly striking was Bailey’s relationship with Joyce. I agree with you Hadley, Joyce filled Bailey’s craving for affection in the same way Mr. Freeman did for Maya. As Maya notes “For him, she was the mother who let him get as close as he dreamed, the sister who wasn’t moody and withdrawing, and teary and tenderhearted,” (147). Both children have never had the unconditional love of parents which provides stability and a feeling of safety to a child. Bailey, like Maya, wished for that specific form of love, but it was attained in a manner that was tainted and unfulfilling. As you noted Margo, Maya and Bailey have been tossed between their mother, father and Grandmother, being uprooted every time they begin to settle in to a community and build a sense of belonging. Throughout the novel, Maya Angelou has stressed the importance of family, and shown numerous times the detrimental effects of a fragmented family.

    Also, seeing as we are working on “writers craft” in class, I thought if might be interesting to focus on Maya Angelou’s writing techniques and style. Two sentences stood out to me. The first brilliantly conveys the feeling Maya experiences after she realizes the ineluctable nature of death. “But on that nervous day, oppressed beyond relief, my own mortality was borne in upon me on sluggish tides of doom,” (157). The last phrase, ” sluggish tides of doom” was especially powerful. The second writing technique I noticed was when Maya Angelou wrote, “Up the aisle, the moans and screams merged with the sickening smell of woolen black clothes worn in summer weather and green leaves wilting over hello flowers. I couldn’t distinguish whether I was smelling the clutching sounds of misery or hearing the cloying odor of death,” (159). In this phrase, Maya Angelou switch the description of the sense, saying that she could smell the sounds of misery and hear the odor of death. By doing so, she created an image that captured the heavy and suffocating reality of death which is present at the funeral. I thought that the whole passage, where Maya grows in her comprehension of the concept of death, was intriguing, and Maya Angelou did an excellent job illustrating such an intricate concept. What have you noticed about Maya Angelou’s writing style?

    At the end of the last section, we were all curious as to how Maya will heal from the experience of being raped. In this section, the reader is given brief glances into how her past experience effects her, and how she manages living with the memory of such a horrific event. As Maya Angelou writes, “I never talked about St. Louis with her, (Louise) and had generally come to believe that the nightmare with its attendant guilt and fear hadn’t really happened to me. It happened to a nasty little girl, years and years before, who had no chain on me at all,” (156). To cope with the reality that she was raped, Maya has disassociated herself from the event, pretending that she was not the one being raped, but some other unknown girl. Maya strives to cleanse herself from the memory, and the guilt and shame that accompanies it. It will be interesting to continue to see how Maya continues to handle her memories.

    Margo, those are some of my favorite parts of the novel as well. Maya Angelou description of “falling into the sky” was excellent, and it called to mind the joy of spending time with someone with whom you can share your wildest and craziest ideas without worry. When with Louise, Maya is able to act and speak freely, with no fears of worries to retrain her.

    Sorry this post is shorter than usual. My brain has been distracted by the holidays. I will see you both tomorrow and I can’t wait to discuss the ending of the novel with you. Reading and discussing I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings with you two is always a pleasure.

  12. hadleycorwin

    Hello Katie and Margo, hope you are having a relaxing break so far. There is so much to discuss! I will focus on what I believe to be the main events in this last quarter of the novel though each page covers a new topic that I am positive we could write essays on!

    As we have been studying identity in class, I thought that this passage was interesting, “Not that I identified with the newcomers, nor with the rare Black descendants of native San Franciscans, nor with the whites or even the Asians, but rather with the times and the city” (211). Maya finds her identity in San Francisco, and rather than identifying with a specific race or group of people, she identifies with the time period and the urban lifestyle. For someone who has been constantly defined by her ethnicity and class all through her life, this is a big step for Maya. There are many other passages that reveal Angelou’s identity, what have you discovered about how Maya’s identity changes as she grows and matures?

    I loved this description of Angelou’s admiration of San Francisco, “To me, a thirteen-year-old Black girl, stalled by the Southern and Southern Black lifestyle, the city was a state of beauty and a state of freedom. The fog wasn’t simply the steamy vapors off the bay caught and penned in by hills, but a soft breath of anonymity that shrouded and cushioned the bashful traveler I became dauntless and free of fears, intoxicated by the physical fact of San Francisco” (212). The “state of beauty” captured in Angelou’s words paints a beautiful scene of the urban landscape and the freedom and privacy that the city lifestyle entails. This is undoubtedly a prime example of Maya Angelou’s incomparable craft; the description that manages to both illustrate the physical setting and establish the narrator’s voice and character is immensely inspiring.

    One interesting cultural aspect that was revealed in this quarter was when Maya accompanies her stepfather to listen to stories told by his somewhat shady friends. They present the idea that since the African American people were stolen from their homeland, they have the right to steal from the community that separated them from their native land and communities. I found this an incredibly insightful and new perspective, in some ways it makes sense; I can definitely see how, in the African Americans’ minds, “being stolen” could justify stealing.

    Not long after this point is brought up, Maya states that she “learned to slide out of one language and into the other without being conscious of the effort” (225). Speaking about the different “languages” used by the white people and the African American people, reminded me of Calpurnia in To Kill A Mockingbird, and how she is described as having “command over two languages.” This connection establishes the idea that African-Americans, and people of all cultures, are often forced to adapt to the norms and expectations of different communities.

    Although I have nothing specifically to comment on about Maya’s brief and eventful stay with her father, I thought it was disheartening to witness the deceit and miscommunication between Dolores and Maya’s father. The entire trip simply made me appreciate Maya’s mother’s kindness, and Maya’s ability to be independent, even more.

    I believe that living in the dump with the other children was one of the most interesting and meaningful events in this last section of the book because the reader got a chance to see Maya when she is not around any family, and how she grows and reacts. She describes herself as “a loose in a gentle wind floating with only [her] will for an anchor” (251). This is so descriptive and poetic, and it paints a clear picture of Maya’s character throughout the novel. She is finding herself, making discoveries about the world, and exploring her society. The new world of the dump brings out her individuality and independent nature strongly while it also strengthens her ability to make friends and take risks. It is hard to believe that this is the same ignorant, sheltered girl from Stamps.

    The twist of Maya having her first child in the last chapter of the novel was completely unexpected, and I will admit I was a little let down by the story’s logical, yet abrupt, finale. I was not expecting Maya to give birth to her son as a teenager and have such an accepting attitude towards sex after being raped less than a decade ago. I believe that Maya wanted to have sex to prove her femininity, but also to recover from Freedman’s abuse and prove to herself that she had moved on. Her confusion about, yet longing for sex at the end was a bit confusing, do either of you have any thoughts?
    As the reader I would have liked Maya to make some concluding statement about her early years to wrap everything neatly, but I can see why she did not. While the first seventeen years of her life were incredibly defining and pivotal, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was only the beginning, just the first chapter, of her life.

    I think I had been holding on to the foolish expectation that, with her final sentence, Angelou would reveal Why the Caged Bird Sings explicitly, rather than leaving the title for the reader to interpret. Personally, I believe that the caged bird sings because of its hope and determination; it sings with the desire for freedom and the desire to express itself to the world. This is representative of Maya herself, as a woman with every imaginable disadvantage in life who still manages to make her voice heard. What were your interpretations of the title?

    Reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings has humbled me enormously. Maya Angelou was forced to tackle so many conflicts at such a young age, this novel truly made me realized how privileged my own life is, and a made me want to do more to make a difference and help others, as Angelou has done through her poetry and writing. Like the white kids at Maya’s high school in San Francisco, I realize that I care about such trivial hardships, such as braces, rather than standing up to inequalities in my area or experiencing all aspects of life as Maya did.

    Phew! Sorry that this response was so long, I got a little carried away! Please do not feel obligated to respond to everything that has been said, I look forward to reading your own responses. Thank you so much for blogging with me, I can’t wait to read what each of you has to say! I hope you enjoy our break and look forward to seeing you soon!
    Hadley xo

  13. katieoppenheimer1

    Hello Hadley and Margo! I cannot believe that we have finished the book already. The comments you two make are always incredibly insightful and have made reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings even more enjoyable and fulfilling. Hadley, never worry about the length of your post, they are always filled with thoughtful and valuable thoughts and analysis, which I appreciate greatly.

    I agree with you Hadley, it was intriguing to read about Maya’s fascination with, and adoration for San Francisco. In her childhood, Maya was constantly moving between homes in Stamps and St. Louis; two places that differ strongly in nature. Both of these homes were discordant with Maya’s character. When in Stamps, Maya was heavily restricted, by both the rules of her own community and the prejudices of the white folk. When in St. Louis, Maya was exposed to the depravity that pervades cities, but goes unaddressed because of the nature of city life. The diversity and freedom of San Francisco is congruous with Maya’s independent spirit and yearning for a life free of socially constructed constraints.

    “Although I had no regrets, I told myself sadly that growing up was not the painless process one would have thought it to be,” (252). In this statement formed by her painful experience with her brother, Maya Angelou makes an extremely wise observation about the maturative process. While maturation brings an individual greater understanding, experience, and wisdom, it also brings sadness and suffering. The experience gained is not always pleasant, often inciting disillusionment in the idealistic and optimistic beliefs of childhood and causing the individual to become aware of the prejudices, immorality, violence, hatred and sadness that exists. In maturation, an individual leaves the comfortable ignorance and is exposed to reality.

    I also saw Maya’s time living in the dump as a significant point in her life. As Maya stated, “The unquestioning acceptance by my peers had dislodged the familiar insecurity. Odd that the homeless children, the wild of war frenzy, could initiate me into the brotherhood of man… I was never again to sense myself so solidly outside the pale of the human race,” Previous to living in the dump, Maya was uncomfortable with herself, and felt like an outsider to society. In the dump, there was unconditional acceptance. This experience with acceptance enlightened Maya to the fact that there is no part of her that makes her inferior or separate in anyway to the rest of society. Without this belief, the insecurity she felt about herself disappeared, and allowed her to reveal her opinions and character untempered by fear or self-doubt.

    The change living in the dump caused in Maya is shown when she returns home to San Francisco. Being refused the job because of her race, Maya became only more adamant in her wish. She thinks, “I WOULD HAVE THE JOB. I WOULD BE A CONDUCTORETTE AND SLING A FULL MONEY CHANGER FROM MY BELT. I WOULD,” Maya’s defiant declaration illustrates how dramatically she has changed in the passage of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, she was fearful of voicing her opinions, and was compliant with the wishes and beliefs of others. Now, she expresses her true identity, which is not meek or compliant, but independent and determined. Maya, through the events in her life, most prominently the car ride and living in the dump, has developed and found who she is, and as a result, is no longer is fearful of others, but resolute in her beliefs. The social constraints and opposition that once held her back do not diminish her resolve to strive to achieve her wish.

    I too was reminded of how sheltered and free from hardship my life has been and still is. The contrast between lifestyles called to mind a quote in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian (such a long title!) After attending Reardan for a few weeks Junior comments, “The Reardan kids were so worried about grades and sports and THEIR FUTURES ” (Alexie 130). Maya Angelou and Sherman Alexie both convey the variance between lives caused by race, wealth, gender and many other factors. The experiences I have had and the environment I have lived in are dramatically different then those experiences Maya had and environment she lived in. Maya never had the carefree years of childhood I took for granted, and she dealt with events I can only imagine having to face. Consequently, I view the world from a completely different perspective than Maya Angelou did. My life focuses on grades and the sports, which are so trivial compared to the events of Maya’s life. Is it a blessing that such things comprise my life, and I do not have to endure the inequality and struggle Maya Angelou and Sherman Alexie did? Perhaps I am lucky that I do not have to face such hardships. I don’t know.

    I also was slightly shocked by the end of the novel, but remembering the nature of the novel, and not trying to fit it to a This book is not a story with a formulated plot, but an autobiography that authentically details Maya Angelou’s life, and life does not have a fully conclusive ending, nor follow a logical and well paced story line. Life, especially Maya Angelou’s, which we both noted is vastly different than ours, is full of abrupt changes and inexplicable events. I thought the closing of the book was beautiful, both in its writing and the events. Upon reading that she was pregnant, I was fearful that her family would be unsupportive, and so I was surprised and pleased that her family did the opposite, and supported her and surrounded her with love. The second to last line of the book is particularly meaningful. Maya’s mother tells her, “See, you don’t have to think about doing the right thing. If you’re for the right thing, then you do it without thinking,” I saw her mother’s statement as the final pivotal point in Maya’s childhood. Her mother’s words convey the message to Maya that an individual does not have to worry about knowing the “right thing” to do. If a person is motivated by love and tolerance, as Maya is, their actions will be loving and tolerant. This relieves Maya of her uncertainty and distrust in herself, releasing her from the constraints she placed on herself.

    On the title of the novel, I have to admit I also hoped that the meaning behind it would be explicitly stated in the novel, which of course, it was not. However, if you have the same book as mine, there are questions in the back, and in one of those questions it states that the title was based on a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, so I looked up the poem. To me, the poem told of being trapped, and the anguish and despair that come from being constrained and “locked in a cage.” Based on the poem, the caged bird’s song is a prayer that it will be released from its cage, and will have the freedom it longs for. The struggle for freedom illustrated in the poem parallels the struggle Maya underwent to claim her independence described in the novel. After reading the poem and comparing it to the content of the novel, how do you interpret the title?

    I enjoyed reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings immensely, and am very happy that I got to discuss it with the two of you.

    Happy Holidays! I hope your holiday break is full of fun and relaxation. I will see you next year! (I love it when I can say that)

    Katie 🙂

  14. margosidline

    Hello! Sorry for my late response! I love what both of you said and think you expertly captured the novel. I’m about to struggle with writing my response to the two of you!

    Hadley, I like the question you posed in the beginning of your response (“There are many other passages that reveal Angelou’s identity, what have you discovered about how Maya’s identity changes as she grows and matures?”) and think that I will focus part of my response on that. What I found the most striking about her self-discovery was her venture into sexual identity. I think most people when introduced to the idea of homosexuality are inquisitive and perhaps wonder about themselves, much like Maya did. It is logical to me that she wondered if she were affected by that and that she would want to experiment to find out for sure; after all we are taught in school sciences to prove our theories! What I found interesting about her sexual encounter with the neighbor next door (though comical in the nature of her proposal!) was the lack of connection between this new encounter and her first sexual experience with Mr. Freeman.

    As we know, Mr. Freeman raped Maya at such a young age and caused so much damage to her in her early adoloencense. When she wrote of her first “real” experience with intercourse, she only mentioned Mr. Freeman once, to discuss the lack of pain she felt due to the previous experience. I thought that this lack of connection was WONDERFUL! Maya didn’t think about Mr. Freeman when she was having sex again, which means that she had moved on. Not only was she not considering him, but she made the conscious choice to have sex- consensual sex. The fact that she made this choice leads me to conclude that Mr. Freeman and Maya’s rape does not control her anymore; she is free, and if she wants to experiment sexually, then she is going to march next door and experiment. While she clearly did not take very many precautions, this show of freedom and control over herself and her sexual identity are well worth it.

    That is not to mention the wonder of her childbirth! Though in general I find teen pregnancy, especially accidental, to be sad, I thought that this instance was empowering. Just as she lost control over her life, she gained it. Over the years that we grew to know Maya in the novel, she matured drastically and I think that she was ready for the baby. In fact, she needed him. Much like her mother (who’s enigmatic personality made an excellent character, who became my personal favorite), Maya was a “get-it-done” type of a person, and motherhood was next on the list. I loved when she described the feeling of love and grate fullness as well as possession and motherhood becoming jumbled inside of her. I thought that description was very unique and I could imagine that that is largely what that feels like.

    I found Maya’s journey into motherhood a perfect way to end the novel. The last page seemed at first to be an abrupt conclusion, but after further thought turned out to be perfect. After first reading it, I thought that Maya had not yet discovered herself fully and that the novel couldn’t possibly be over if she hadn’t. I was wrong. When Maya falls asleep again, she is saying to the reader that she is sure; sure that she won’t crush the baby, sure that everything will be okay in the morning. That sureness proves that Maya did know herself and that she was now secure in her being, which was really for me the point of the novel.

    Anyway, I loved the book. Maya is a true poet and though at times I found the book to be difficult to read through, I am glad that I did. Her writing perfectly captures the challenging time period of adolescence as well as the necessity of knowledge and family and identity. The book is just so HUMAN- if you know what I mean.

    I’d also like to note the symbolism of her falling asleep as the books ends. I’ve noticed many authors do that and I think it’s really a neat way to tie the book together. I also had a favorite passage from the book:

    “I went further than forgiving the clerk, I accepted her as a fellow victim of the same puppeteer.” (263).

    I hope we get a chance to discuss together in person! I’ve loved sharing this reading experience with you. Happy New Year and see you next week.

  15. margosidline

    Hello for the last time! If I am being perfectly honest, I am not quite sure how to write this summary and review, so I will keep it short and sweet(:

    I loved this book! Maya perfectly encompasses the challenges of growing up a black southern woman and describes, with much detail, her own coming of age story, made more interesting by the after-affects of her childhood rape. The way she discovers herself after she stops letting the incident of her rape define her is truly touching and inspiring. She encompasses her opinions of the prevalence of racism, sexism, and classicism while sharing her childhood recollections.

    I actually found it to be a challenge to read at times because of Maya’s poetic writing style. The way that it was written made it seem meaty, long, and over-detailed, but also gave the novel a refined elegance that was necessary. My personal conflicts over this voice controversy aside, I think it is worth acknowledging that I did find it hard to get through.

    Factoring in all of these observations, the way the book had me audibly gasping, sobbing, and laughing while inspiring me as to be a strong woman forces me to rate this book 7/10. While it was a challenging read, I have no regrets and would easily read this again, as well as other Maya Angelou books. I highly recommend if you are an avid reader looking for a moderately challenging novel!

    Thank you Katie & Hadley for the thought provoking discussion, on the blog and in person. It’s been such a pleasure!

  16. hadleycorwin

    Hello again!(:

    I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was definitely worth the few challenging passages and upsetting scenes, as the novel proved to be an incredibly thought-provoking and well-written read. Maya Angelou, a renowned African American poet, writer, and civil rights advocate was challenged by her editor and peers to write an autobiography that was, at the same time, a work of literature. She more than successfully accomplishes this in her novel and autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings published in 1969. Her deftly crafted and eloquent writing style is exemplified on nearly every page, and while her storylines can meander, the thematic unity of the piece leaves the reader satisfied and hopeful, ready to take up Angelou’s call to action against the many injustices she faced in her youth.

    Angelou’s autobiography takes place over the span of fourteen years, from the time she is three when she and her brother are given to their grandmother to be raised in Stamps, Arkansas. The tight-knit community is bursting with racial tensions and conflict, and from this early age, Angelou grapples with the concepts of abandonment, poverty, and both racial and gender discrimination. Maya’s many struggles were, for me, the most moving and interesting parts of the book. As a reader, Maya’s adventures and conflicts throughout the novel were the passages I most engaged with.
    Maya Angelou is an immense source of admiration for me after reading her autobiography, and she is a role model to all who have felt like an outsider in society, and those who have ever felt violated, disrespected, or hopeless. Though Maya is abused in so many ways, from rape to racial discrimination, her identity is shaped, rather than destroyed, by each experience.

    As Margo mentioned in her review, Angelou’s poetic language, thorough descriptions, and inconsistent structure prove both a blessing and a curse. One note that I have about on the fluency of the novel is that while some parts of are extremely intriguing and I read with ease, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings would not be appropriately categorized as a rapid “page turner”. This is NOT because the subject is boring or dull, rather because both the writing and the underlying messages and themes behind each page require time and thoughtfulness to process.

    When I re-read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, I intend to spend more time absorbing each chapter as I read, rather than trying to read large chunks at a time as I ended up doing this time. I give I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings a 7.25/10 due to the intense and inspiring overall content, unique and beautiful (though at times tedious) writing style, and engaging storylines.

    I will miss discussing this book with both of you, Margo and Katie! I always look forward to reading and hearing your opinions, you both have such lovely and expressive writing styles that I genuinely admire. Thank you for encouraging me to read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, I highly recommend others to do the same!

  17. katie Oppenheimer

    Hello Margo and Hadley!

    In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou gives a vivid and enthralling illustration of the formative moments of her childhood, starting when she is three and continuing till she is seventeen. Over the course of her childhood, Maya Angelou must endure racism, abandonment, ridicule, and sexual abuse. The reader follows Maya Angelou as she develops her identity and searches for freedom from the restrictions that have been placed upon her. Each conflict and adversity she faces adds more detail to Maya Angelou’s character, and further defines her identity. Through the course of the book, the reader sees Maya’s progression from an insecure and timid child to a passionately independent and vibrant young woman.

    The topics Maya Angelou explores in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, prejudice, maturation, family, individuality, and the search to define one’s identity, are significant, and challenge the reader to examine their own beliefs and the society that they live in today. In the novel, Maya Angelou perfectly captures the winding and sometimes erratic nature of life, and gave an authentic and candid depiction of both the hardships and joys she experienced growing up. The characters in the novel are illustrated with vivid detail, each with their flaws and unique personalities.

    After reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I have an even greater sense of admiration for Maya Angelou. The adversities she faced did not weaken her character, but strengthened her determination.

    I greatly enjoyed reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and would rate it an eight out of ten. I found this novel to be incredibly worthwhile to read, , tells the story of a remarkable woman, and explores timeless and important topics that often go ignored.

    Margo and Hadley, it has been a pleasure blogging with the two of you!

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