I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Caged Bird Essay

Many unfortunate individuals, at any point in history, have felt trapped and/or helpless during a complicated situation. Whether it is an African American enslaved during the Civil War, a victim of the Holocaust enclosed in horrifying memories, or a girl trapped in her inability to voice her thoughts, all of these situations can be considered horrendous, at a certain level. The poem “Sympathy,” by Laurence Dunbar, visibly expresses how African Americans were “caged” during the callous times of slavery. This poem was meant to symbolize those who have felt trapped at one time in their lives, with a metaphoric caged bird. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a memoir by Maya Angelou, also exemplifies the anguish people have felt during times of desperation and “confinement.” More specifically, Angelou portrays this grief by contrasting similar characteristics between certain characters in her memoir and the caged bird in Laurence Dunbar’s poem.

The incredibly, prominent poem, “Sympathy,” written by Laurence Dunbar compares enslaved African Americans, during the 1800s, to an aggrieved caged bird, longing for the taste of freedom. This poem clearly describes how the caged bird struggled to be free after enduring temptation and physical and mental distress. During the first stanza, Dunbar vividly illustrates the imagery outside of the “cruel bars” of the cage, and tries to get the reader to comprehend how the caged bird, and the “incarcerated” African Americans, felt tempted at the chance to be free. In addition to temptation, the caged bird also faced physical pain. In the poem “Sympathy,” Laurence Dunbar clearly describes how the caged bird struggled to become liberated:

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting—
I know why...
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