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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

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  • November 11, 2008
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In her autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou writes about the challenges she faced growing up as a black girl in the southern states of America and California in the 1930's and 1940's. It is a vivid retelling of the turbulent events of her childhood, during which she shuttled back and forth between dramatically different environments in rural Stamps, Arkansas, St. Louis, Missouri, and San Francisco, California. Maya Angelou writes in detail about how she is confronted with rape, racism, and sexism at an early stage in her life. Her autobiography is also a story of her relationships with a diverse cast of characters. Among these characters are her grandma, Annie Henderson, her brother Bailey Johnson Jr., her father Bailey Johnson, and her mother Vivian Johnson. These characters are the cast for this vivid retelling of the drama of Maya Angelou's growing-up years. During these years, she struggled against the odds of being black at a time when prejudice, especially in the South, was at its height. But most of all, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, is her coming age of story; it is her story of discovering who she is.

When Maya Angelou is three years old, her parents have a divorce and send her and her four-year-old brother Bailey from California to Arkansas to live with her grandmother in a town that is divided by color and full of racism. They are raised by her grandmother and then sent back to their carefree mother in the absence of a father figure. At age eight, she is raped by her mother's boy friend, Mr. Freeman. Maya Angelou clearly expresses the physical pain of sexual assault, the mental anguish of not daring to tell, and her guilt and shame for having been raped. Her timidity and fear of telling about the incident magnify the brutality of the rape. For more than a year after the rape, she lives in silence, speaking only very rarely. Eventually, Maya Angelou manages to somewhat put the rape behind her and pays more attention to her...