December 9, 2010
Themes of Racism and Segregation in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
By Maya Angelou
The purpose of this paper is to introduce, discuss, and analyze the novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Specifically it will discuss the themes of racism and segregation, and how these strong themes are woven throughout this moving autobiography. Maya Angelou recounts the story of her early life, including the racism and segregation she experiences throughout her formative years. With wit, sincerity, and remarkable talent, Angelou portrays racism as a product of ignorance and prejudice. However, she finds the strength to rise above this crippling condition.
Angelou opens her biography with the dreams of a child, whishing she could be white in a white world. She writes, "Because I was really white and because a cruel fairy godmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty had turned me into a too-big Negro girl, whit nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number two pencil" (Angelou 4-5). Throughout her youth, she faces a world of prejudice and racism. Instead of embracing her heritage, she wants to be white, because the whites are the people with power and money. The whites were also the people that controlled the blacks and Angelou finds out, often the hard way, as her life continues. One literary critic notes, "Angelou's account of her childhood and adolescence chronicles her frequent encounters with racism, sexism, and classism at the same time that she describes the people, events, and personal qualities that helped her to survive the devastating effects of her environment" (Megna-Wallace 2). While this book chronicles a lifetime of racism and prejudice, Angelou's eloquent use of the language almost softens the blow by making it lyrical and beautiful to read, but the underlying rage and distress at the differences between blacks and... [continues]
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