I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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“I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings liberates the reader into life simply because Maya Angelou confronts her own life with such moving wonder, such a luminous dignity”. With these words, James Baldwin, who mentored and motivated Maya Angelou to write her autobiographical novel, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, describes the hope that Maya Angelou harboured for a better world, strongly supported by her love of literature and frequent retreats into the depths of literary worlds. The ever-religious Angelou resorted to the teachings of the Holy Bible to comprehend her tumultuous life and find her identity, she depended on Shakespeare’s Medieval plays to free herself from the burning coals of racial prejudice, and finally she found the means to make sense of her own sexuality and gender peculiarities through Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness and Jane Eyre’s Wuthering Heights. Throughout her novel, Maya has used these various literary works of literature to understand and cope with her challenges, to overcome these major pain points in her life and to emerge as one of the greatest female inspirations in the modern world. An adamant Christian, Angelou took comfort from the Bible to cope with the uncertainties in her life, to determine her identity, an important theme of this novel. ‘Of all the needs a lonely child has, the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope, and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God. My pretty black brother was my Kingdom Come’ (Angelou 4:19). Here Maya uses repetition to stress the importance of a staunch need for religion to keep oneself grounded, and metaphorical allusion to refer to her brother as the Savior from the Lord’s Speech who would deliver her from her life of misery. In Maya’s family, the Ten Commandments were certainly followed and provided some structure to their lives. In a humorous twist, Maya’s grandmother changes some of the Commandments with her own. “‘Thou shall not be dirty’ and ‘Thou shall not be impudent’ were the two Commandments of Grandmother Henderson upon which hung our total salvation “(Angelou 5:21). Angelou goes on to describe the consequences of breaking any of these sacred commandments of Momma that certainly instilled good manners and values in their lives. Maya also took great strength from the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Hebrew Bible ‘The laws were so absolute, so clearly set down, that I knew if a person truly wanted to avoid hell and brimstone, and being roasted forever in the devil’s fire, all she had to do was to memorize Deuteronomy and memorize its teaching, word for word (Angelou 6:31). Just as the Hebrews wandered for decades until they reached the promised land, Angelou also held out hope of finding her light at the end of her dismal tunnel. The Christian revival meetings that everyone in Maya’s town went too, even after long days picking cotton until their bones and bodies ached, gave them a reason to bear the inequalities imposed upon them. ‘It was better to be meek and lowly, spat upon and abused for this little time, than to spend eternity frying in the fires of hell. (Angelou 18:111). Angelou uses hyberbole to explain that the Blacks took so much of abuse from the Whites of those times, but ultimately, they would avoid the punishment of Hell

Racism is one of the main underlying themes of Maya Angelou’s book and rears its ugly head many times. Angelou uses Shakespeare and his literary works to soothe the scars of this prejudice. At the tender age of three, Maya and her older brother, Bailey Johnson Jr.‘s parents split up and they were sent to stay with their paternal grandmother, Annie Henderson, in a segregated, rural town of Stamps. “During these years in Stamps, I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare. He was my first white love.” (Angelou 2:11) Here, Maya uses allusion as she means that she adored Shakespeare’s works and not him as he was dead at the time but this shows how...
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