Review of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings begins as a narrative of a young black girl growing up in the care of her grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas, in the 1930s. The story proceeds chronologically, following Maya's experiences in St. Louis and California, but is not organized with connecting chapters. Individual sections stand alone as self-contained short stories, and Angelou skillfully blends dual points of view—that of the child Maya and that of the adult Angelou—within these units. Hence Angelou assumes two personae: Maya's voice describes in sometimes poignant terms incidents in her childhood and adolescence; and Angelou's adult voice, introspective and objective, makes general observations or editorializes.

Angelou's prose is rich with sensuous imagery that captures the tastes, smells, and surroundings of her childhood. Her vivid re-creation of her experiences, enlivened by humor and colorful dialogue, pulls the reader into the text. Significant moments in Angelou's life stand out with clarity. When Maya meets her mother face-to-face for the first time since she was three, Angelou allows the reader to feel the impact of Vivian's presence: 'My mother's beauty literally assailed me. Her red lips (Momma said it was a sin to wear lipstick) split to show even white teeth and her fresh-butter color looked see-through clean.' In this brief description, Angelou also manages to convey conflict through her parenthetical reference to Momma, Vivian's mother. She loves the glamour and beauty of her mother, but feels inclined to judge her because of her loyalty to Momma, who instilled in her grandchildren strict standards of behavior.

Most of the dialogue is written in standard English, but it occasionally includes realistic snatches of regional dialect and black English. When the point of view shifts from Maya, the child, to Angelou, the adult looking back, the language becomes less colorful and the tone less animated. When Angelou's voice enters the narrative, her serious...
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