I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a novel written by Maya Angelou that describes her coming of age as a precocious but insecure black girl in the American South during the 1930s. Maya’s parents got divorced when she was only three years old and shipped Maya and her older brother, Bailey, to live with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, in rural Stamps, Arkansas. Annie, whom they call Momma, runs the only store in the black section of Stamps and becomes the central moral figure in Maya’s childhood.
As I was reading through the novel, I had many mixed opinions and feelings. I read the first fifteen chapters of this novel and many significant events occurred one after the other.
The first areas that this book talked about were racism and segregation. The story began with Maya seeing herself as someone who was ugly because she couldn’t connect to the whiteness beauty that was found in many books. She wondered when the time would come where long and blond hair would replace her “kinky mass”, or if the world would become hypnotized if her “China eyes”, that were small and squinty, became light-blue eyes (Angelou 4). Maya enjoyed reading and she didn’t see herself as someone who was beautiful because she didn’t have blond hair, blue eyes or white skin just like all the girl characters, instead, she saw that the world judged her for having awkward looks. Maya was only five years old when she came to those conclusions and it truly shocked me how a five-year-old could think of her self in that way. Moreover, Maya was already linking beauty to whiteness at this age, and this demonstrated how racism not only affects people being called horrible names or being treated differently, it affects everyone.
I grew up as a Muslim and my friends all knew that I practiced Islam. When I was younger I thought about whether being Muslim was right or not because I acted differently than the typical Muslims that were aired on TV. Anytime a terrorist attack occurred, the oppressor would always be labelled as Muslim. Anytime Hollywood needed someone to play the role of a terrorist, they would always choose someone with an Islamic name. With all that happening, I felt embarrassed to let people know about my religion because I knew that they would think badly of me. I truly felt for Maya because she thought of herself as someone who was different in a negative way, and that’s how I was when I was around her age.
Going back to the novel, Maya went through many hardships. She and her brother were shipped several times going back and forth from their paternal grandmother to their mother and this certainly made them feel like they didn’t belong anywhere. At her mother’s place, Maya was sexually assaulted by Mr. Freeman, her mother’s boyfriend, and everything went downhill from there. She distanced herself from everyone, including Bailey, and she blamed herself for the death of Mr. Freeman after he had been caught and killed for what he had done to Maya.
I am familiar with the author’s work, and I have studied several pieces of writing that were created by Maya Angelou. A well-known poem, And Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou, is a powerful and empowering poem all about the struggle to overcome prejudice and injustice. Because of my previous knowledge of this poem, I would say that Maya (the character) will overcome all the problems she is facing and she will use these problems to become a stronger person throughout the story.
In conclusion, I can’t wait to finish reading this story because I believe that Maya will start moving forward and will overcome the difficult challenges she was facing in the past (I would like to see if I’m right!). This book is very similar to Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, since they both talked about the early 20th century and how life was back then for people of color. Both authors also shared the same technique of writing by using a first person narrative and I believe that it was effective because it helped me directly see how the character or author was feeling at the moment.
- I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou