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.