“I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is the first and probably the most popular volume of Maya Angelou’s autobiography. The whole collection covers the period between 1930s and late 1960s. The first volume was written in 1969 and in 1970, it was nominated for a National Book Award. The book speaks about Maya’s childhood up to the moment she is seventeen. It focuses on her growing and becoming a premature black girl. The main themes of the book are also family, motherhood and self-knowledge. When Maya Angelou was three years old, her parents divorced so Maya was sent to her grandmother Annie that owned the store in Stamps. It was she who became the essential ethical person in life of Maya Angelou.
The first thing that needs to be said is despite the fact the book is autobiographical nevertheless it contains many elements that are typical for such literary works as fiction. There are vivid characters, different types of detailed descriptions and living dialogs. However, it still has signs of autobiography, like a chronological narration and an accent on self-developing. Nevertheless, it is not strangely. We can see a great attempt of the author to recollect her thought, disposition and impression when she was a child (Bloom 107). Moreover, Maya Angelou does that work incredibly well. How marvelously accurately she speaks about different small details. There are no possibilities to recognize an adult behind that child’s but strong voice (Braxton and Angelou 4). What is more, the book is sufficiently honest so it becomes apparent why “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” stayed forbidden in certain cases (Foerstel 194). However, Angelou’s book may be accepted as central reading for young persons. It with no doubts is able to tell the reader how despite the several defeats to stay not defeated.
Maya Angelou touches upon several significant themes such as a racism that she meets in a very young age. She also meets the fact that the town she lives is rather isolated and so is she. Maya has occasion to accept the fact she is a black girl segregated with other black people. When she gets older, she starts to understand much more complicated aspects of this problem. Maya personally faces the demonstrations of racism at her graduation: “Like the most children, I thought if I could face the worst danger voluntarily, and triumph, I would forever have power on it” (Angelou 2). Further, when she goes to the dentist. Doubtless, she knows about the way in what racism problems have influenced her relatives and what aftermaths it has brought. It is astonishing how she also tries to withstand it.
It is an interesting fact that name Maya gives Angelou her brother and her real name is Marguerite. It may be a feature of the anxious treatment of Bailey. In addition, a theme of finding her name is probably deals with search of her true identity and family. Another scene that touches the motif of name is the scene where Mrs. Cullinan wants to impose Angelou another name that is shorter than Maya. It brings us back to the problem of attitude toward black people and especially toward Maya.
One cannot deny that in spite of all negative experience that Maya goes through, despite all sorrowful details that she learns about life, she, however, has several examples of strong female characters in her life. Maya’s grandmother, Vivian and others are instances of strong people that are proud of their life paths. They try to save the self-esteem so that these women are never submitted to any exposures of racism. Angelou’s grandmother is an astonishing example of strong black woman: “Knowing Momma, I knew that I never knew Momma” (Angelou 25). It is significant that Maya also tries to pave her own way. Moreover, her attempts are not useless. Finally, she is succeeded in becoming the first black conductor in San Francisco. She, in fact, is defined as a survivor. However, it is such a rare thing for black woman at these times. Another essential motif of “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is literature. It is a very important part of Maya’s growing. Thanks to literature, she finds her certitude in herself and surrounding world. Her brother supports her craving for art and sometimes he gives her books.
Maya likes her grandmother, Momma’s store and thinks that it is the best place for her to be there. This store for her is a symbol of hard work and allegiance. It reminds her about the significance of a powerful commune for everyone, who is part of this commune. Another attractive symbol that arrests reader’s attention is Maya’s Easter dress. That is an important part in Maya’s maturation that shows her a difference between her inner and outside beauty. She thinks that this dress will help her to show her beauty to others so that she bring herself to transformation. However, further she understands that it is impossible. So Maya thinks about a significance of inside transformation.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. New York: Random House, 1970. Print.
Bloom, Harold. Maya Angelou. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1998. Print.
Braxton, Joanne M, and Maya Angelou. Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: A Casebook. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.
Foerstel, Herbert N. Banned in the U.s.a: A Reference Guide to Book Censorship in Schools and Public Libraries. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002. Print.