Maya Angelou's Autobiography

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Valerie Rhoads
Mary Ann Hayes
Women in Literature
11 December 2008
My topic: Displacement
Maya Angelou’s, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is a genre of an autobiography. This autobiography is written with the plot in mind, having a beginning, middle, and an ending that all connect together. The title is taken from the final stanza of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy”. The Caged Bird represents Maya Angelou as a bird struggling to escape its cage; this is used as a metaphor because she considers her “black self” to be the cage that entraps her... Angelou’s story is written in the first person point of view. My paper will show how displacement affected her life and despite her displacement she becomes a success. Angelou’s exposition is an important piece because she wants the reader to know that Maya is aware of her displacement right from the beginning of the story. She’s getting the reader prepared for her childhood that is unfortunately full of insults.

Maya stands in front of her church congregation on Easter morning and could not finish the lines from the poem she was to recite. She repeats “What you looking at me for? I didn’t come to stay”. Her dress made of a faded purple taffeta that was cut down from white women’s holds a symbolic meaning in the story. At long last the minister’s wife offers her the forgotten lines of her poem. In the meantime, the background of the church is filled with silly laughter over her forgetfulness. Maya hurriedly holds up her two fingers which told her teacher that she had to go to the bathroom. As she gets half way down the aisle she tripped over a foot that stuck out from the children’s pew, as she stumbled “a green persimmon gets caught between her legs and was squeezed”. She’s unable to control the pressure of her physical response and as she’s running out of the church she’s peeing, crying, and laughing all at the same time. Her laughter is partly due for knowing that she won’t die from the whipping she will receive when she gets home but this is another way of foreshadowing Angelou’s eventual success in life. The scene conveys the humiliation, frustration, and displacement that she’s feeling. Angelou doesn’t place a specific time to the opening scene which is foreshadowing that she will feel these same emotions over and over again throughout her life. When Maya repeats, “What you looking at me for”? I didn’t come to stay. She’s emphasizing her displacement, and it’s as if she’s asking is something wrong with me? She’s knows she was abandoned as a child and doesn’t belong with her Grandmother. As a child she struggled with a lot of self hatred that was derived from her appearance. She considered herself an oversized Negro girl, with nappy hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number two pencil. She referred to her skin as “dirty like mud” also as “shit colored”. Earlier, as she watched her Grandmother sew the ruffle on her dress she dreamed that her Easter dress would transform her into a white girl with long blonde hair and blue eyes that she equated with beauty. Maya wanted to be that sweet little girl that stood for everything right in the world, but in reality she knew she was not right. She knew she had the wrong dress, wrong legs, wrong hair, and wrong color. Maya felt like she was living in a “black ugly dream” and she could only escape from it temporarily when she dreamed of living in a white world. Angelou ends the opening scene with an important quote. “If growing up is painful for the Southern black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat”. It is an unnecessary insult. She’s comparing her displacement with the experiences of growing up in the South where she’s faced with a lot of racism, and this must feel like a razor to one’s throat.

At the age of three Maya’s parents divorced and shipped her and her brother Bailey by train to Stamps, Arkansas to live...
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