Themes in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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1. The memoir opens with a provocative refrain: What you looking at me for? I didn’t come to stay…” What do you think this passage says about Ritie’s sense of herself? How does she feel about her place in the world? How does she keep her identity intact? In the novel, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou it basically explains her life growing up. The main character was Maya herself whom wrote the book and she talks about the struggle and pain she had to go through as a child. She explains to us that she is really insecure about her looks and wishes that she was white. The story opens with a provocative refrain: “What you looking at me for? I didn’t come to stay …”. This passage right off the top told me that Maya’s sense of herself was that was wasn’t welcome anywhere because she automatically assumed that they looked at her in disgust and that they didn’t want her there which is why she plainly said she wasn’t there to stay. The way that she feels about her place in the world is extremely sad because she believes she should be a blonde white girl with blue eyes. I feel as though that if she can’t accept herself for who she is then no one else will either. The story gives us background information that her grandmother was very loving to her but she constantly sees how bad people she knows are being treated. I think that Maya expects everyone to dislike her for being African-American, so she does too.  Maya keeps her identity intact by reminding herself who she is, and never to forget that. She may fantasize about being someone else, but she looks up to her Momma and she sees that she’s a great woman and is a great role model for Maya.   

2. Upon seeing her mother for the first time after years of separation, Ritie describes her as “a hurricane in its perfect power”. What do you think about Ritie’s relationship with her mother? How does it compare to her relationship with her grandmother, “Momma”. Maya lived a very long time without her mother in “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”. After years of separation they were finally reunited even though Maya spent the most of her life living with her grandmother which she called Momma. Maya had a very distinct relationship with both her grandmother and her mother. She describes her mother as “a hurricane in its perfect power”. She chooses to describe her mother this way due to the fact she hasn‘t been around most of Mayas life, although she looks up to her mother at the same time. Mayas mother treated her children well, although she never gave Maya a lot of her attention because Maya was always a happy girl, who seemed at peace with the world. But when Mayas mother, Vivian, discovers that her boyfriend molested Maya she kicked him out of her house right away. Vivian then cannot deal with all the trauma that came with the molestation and sends Maya and Bailey back to Stamps. I don’t think that was a very great move, since Maya obviously wasn’t in great condition either and needed her mother. Mayas grandmother on the other hand, still being a great care taker, isn’t much like Mayas mother. She shows that she cares a lot more about her grandchildren and their needs then she does her own. Mayas grandmother has a lot of faith in god. She is well known in Stamps and the residents of Stamps put her on a pedestal. Although the people most important in Mayas life are very different, they both show great love for her.   

3. The author writes, “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.” What do you make of the author’s portrayal of race? How do Ritie and her family cope with the racial tension that permeates their lives? Teenagers throughout the world always claim to feel like they don’t belong. Of course, everyone calls that just a phase ; as even I went through it. But what could that have been like for a southern black girl back in the day? In “I Know Why The Caged Bird...
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