I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Can you imagine living the life of a coming-of-age, southern black girl during the years of 1930 - 1950? Maya Angelou shares her childhood, being both joyous and painful, in her autobiographical novel, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and how she has confronted challenges in her life such as racism and segregation, sexism, violence, loneliness, and more. She has written it in the first person, as most traditional autobiographies, and provides a summary of her life in chronological order during the years covered. All the stories Maya has shared as a child has had a great impact on her adult life.
Maya Angelou, born in 1928, with her older brother, born 1 year before, was with their parents in St. Louis, Missouri until their parents divorced. They were then sent off to live with their grandmother, later called Momma, and Uncle Willie in Stamps, Arkansas. Both Bailey and Maya struggle with the abandonment of their parents. In addition, Maya suffers with self-esteem issues, feeling as not being measured up to other black children, and most certainly not white children. Racism is a huge difficulty in the south, and young Maya is aware of all the lynchings that come about.
At the age of 8, Maya’s father, which she has no recollection of, takes her and her brother away from their grandmother to live with their mother, Vivian, in St. Louis. Vivian has a boyfriend, Mr.Freeman, who stays at the house all night waiting for Vivian to return. Maya pities Mr.Freeman for this, and also because Mr.Freeman, as Maya describes, has breasts like deflated female breasts. Soon, Maya starts sleeping with Vivian and Mr.Freeman at night because she has nightmares. One morning, after Vivian has left the house and gone to work, Mr.Freeman sexually assaults her. He does not rape her, but rather touches himself on the bed while holding Maya close to him. Later, he threatens Maya that if she tells anyone, he will kill Bailey. Maya, however, is very confused about what has just happened, who actually liked being held by someone, does not understand what terrible thing has caused such a threat. He ignores her for weeks, then molests her again, then ignores again. Maya feels rejected and hurt, but loses herself in other activities, such as in books. She wishes she were male, just because the heroes in books are always male. Because Maya does not have friends, she spends most of her time in the library reading books.
In late spring, after Vivian stays out all night one time, Mr. Freeman sends Maya to buy milk. When she returns from the errand, Mr. Freeman rapes her. He threatens to kill her if she screams, and he threatens to kill Bailey if she tells anyone. Afterward, Mr. Freeman sends her to the library, but Maya returns home because of the intense physical pain she feels between her legs. She hides her underwear under her mattress and goes to bed. Later that night, Maya hears Vivian argue with Mr. Freeman. In the morning, Vivian tells Maya that Mr. Freeman has moved out. When Bailey tries to change the linens, the bloodied panties Maya has hidden under the mattress fall out. Maya was then taken to the hospital and Bailey privately urges Maya to name the rapist, assuring her that he would not allow the culprit to kill him. Maya reveals Mr. Freeman’s name, and the authorities promptly arrest him. Maya now thinks of herself as a grown woman, remembering that her nurses told her that she has already experienced the worst that life has to offer. Mr. Freeman receives a sentence of one year and one day in prison. Surprisingly, he is temporarily released after the hearing, and a white policeman visits later that night to tell Grandmother Baxter that Mr. Freeman has been beaten to death most likely by criminal associates of Angelou’s family.
Like most child victims of rape, Angelou bears the guilt of what happened to her, as well as feeling responsible for Mr. Freeman's death. She feels as though she is a...
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