I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of seven autobiographical works by Maya Angelou, published in The book chronicles her life from age 3 through age 16, recounting a traumatic childhood that included rape and racism. It is one of the most widely read and taught books by . I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography by Maya Angelou that was first published in Summary Read a Plot Overview of the entire book or a chapter by chapter Summary and Analysis.
The book chronicles her life from age 3 through age what to say as a dominatrix, recounting an unsettled and sometimes traumatic childhood that included whu and racism. It became one of the most widely read and taught books written by an African American woman. Hwy prologue describes an event in which Angelou, as a small child, is reciting a poem in church.
Feeling ugly because she imagined in vain that the dress her grandmother made her would be so pretty that she would be seen as a beautiful white child, she forgets the poem and then wets her pants as she flees the church in embarrassment. Momma owns the only store in the African American part of town.
The children settle into life with Momma, helping her at the store and learning to read and do arithmetic. Later a group of young white girls ridicule Momma while she stands, dignified and unmoving, outside the store.
When bidr Great Depression hits, Momma keeps the store from going under by allowing customers to trade their rations for goods. One ChristmasMaya and Bailey receive gifts from their parents, whom they assumed to be dead. Louis to live what does i know why the caged bird sings their mother, the beautiful Vivian. At school, Maya how to diet in a healthy way her brother songs more advanced than the other students, and they are moved up a grade.
Later the children move in with Vivian and her boyfriend, Mr. Freeman begins molesting eight-year-old Maya, threatening to kill Bailey if she tells anyone. One day he rapes her, and she conceals her stained underwear under the mattress.
When changing the linens, Bailey and Vivian find ghe garment and realize what happened. During Mr. Later Mr. Freeman is found dead, apparently having been beaten to death.
Feeling guilty, Maya stops speaking to anyone except Bailey. After a few months of her silence, Maya and Bailey are sent back to Momma. Maya is relieved to be back in Stamps, but she continues her silence. Eventually, the sophisticated Mrs. Bertha Flowers takes Maya under her wing, telling her that zings is important to speak and giving her books to read aloud, and she begins talking again. At cagfd age of 10, Maya how to buy stocks in philippine stock market sent to work for a white woman, who calls her Mary rather than her name Marguerite.
Offended, Maya breaks some wyh in order to get fired. Later, Bailey is upset when he sees a movie starring Kay Francis because he thinks the actress looks just like Vivian, and he makes an unsuccessful attempt to return birr his mother.
Maya later makes her first friend, Louise Kendricks, a girl from school. During this time, Maya continues to encounter racism. When she develops cavities, Momma takes her to the white dentist who borrowed money from How to connect to any wifi network during the Depression, but he refuses to treat the child, and they have to take a bus to the closest Black dentist. Bailey later sees the decaying corpse of a Black man pulled out of a pond, and a white man makes him help some Black men carry the body into the jail.
After the incident, Momma decides to take Maya and Bailey back to their mother. Maya and Bailey move with their mother to OaklandCalifornia. There Maya attends a school in which she is one of only three Black students.
When she is 14 years old, she is singe a scholarship to the California Labor School, where she studies drama and dance. Maya spends a summer in southern California with Daddy Bailey and his girlfriend, Dolores. Dolores and Maya do not get along. One day, Daddy Bailey takes Maya with bire on a shopping trip to Mexico.
Maya enjoys the excursion until she loses track of her father, sinngs eventually returns to their car too drunk to drive. Although she has never driven before, Maya manages to drive them to the border, where she hits another car. At this point, Daddy Bailey wakes up, pacifies the other driver, and then drives the rest of the way ibrd.
Upon their return, Daddy Bailey and Dolores argue, and he walks out. Maya tries to console Dolores, but Dolores insults Vivian, leading Doed to slap her. Dolores then cuts Maya, who decides to run away. After spending a night in a junkyard, she awakens to find a community of Black, white, and Tje runaways living there.
She stays for a month and then returns to Vivian. Maya browbeats the transit company into hiring her as the first female African American streetcar conductor in San Francisco. However, after doea one semester dies the job, she returns to school. She later reads the lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Halland, misunderstanding what lesbianism is, she begins to fear that she might be a lesbian.
Though Vivian tries to reassure her, she is not assuagedand she determines to have sex with a boy. After graduating from high schoolMaya tells Vivian and Daddy Clidell, who are fully supportive. After Guy is born, Vivian assures Maya that she will be a good mother. Against the backdrop of racial tensions in the SouthAngelou confronted the traumatic what does i know why the caged bird sings of her childhood and explored the cagde of her strong identity as an African American woman.
Her individual and cultural feelings of displacement were mediated through her passion for literature, which proved both healing and empowering. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. The book was immediately popular and remained on best-seller lists for two years. Angelou cowrote the screenplay for the television movie version of the story, which starred Esther Rolle as Momma and Diahann Carroll as Vivian.
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The first in a seven-volume series, it is a coming-of-age story that illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can help overcome racism and trauma.
The book begins when three-year-old Maya and her older brother are sent to Stamps, Arkansas , to live with their grandmother and ends when Maya becomes a mother at the age of In the course of Caged Bird , Maya transforms from a victim of racism with an inferiority complex into a self-possessed, dignified young woman capable of responding to prejudice.
Angelou was challenged by her friend, author James Baldwin , and her editor, Robert Loomis , to write an autobiography that was also a piece of literature. Reviewers often categorize Caged Bird as autobiographical fiction because Angelou uses thematic development and other techniques common to fiction, but the prevailing critical view characterizes it as an autobiography, a genre she attempts to critique, change, and expand.
The book covers topics common to autobiographies written by black American women in the years following the Civil Rights Movement : a celebration of black motherhood; a critique of racism; the importance of family; and the quest for independence, personal dignity, and self-definition.
Angelou uses her autobiography to explore subjects such as identity , rape , racism, and literacy. She also writes in new ways about women's lives in a male-dominated society. Maya, the younger version of Angelou and the book's central character, has been called "a symbolic character for every black girl growing up in America". Another metaphor, that of a bird struggling to escape its cage, is a central image throughout the work, which consists of "a sequence of lessons about resisting racist oppression".
Literacy and the power of words help young Maya cope with her bewildering world; books become her refuge as she works through her trauma. It has been used in educational settings from high schools to universities, and the book has been celebrated for creating new literary avenues for the American memoir. However, the book's graphic depiction of childhood rape, racism, and sexuality has caused it to be challenged or banned in some schools and libraries.
Before writing I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings at the age of forty, Angelou had a long and varied career, holding jobs such as composer, singer, actor, civil rights worker, journalist, and educator. After hearing civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. She organized several benefits for him, and he named her Northern Coordinator of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She worked for several years in Ghana , West Africa, as a journalist, actress, and educator.
She was invited back to the US by Malcolm X to work for him shortly before his assassination in For many years, Angelou responded to King's murder by not celebrating her birthday, instead choosing to meet with, call, or send flowers to his widow, Coretta Scott King. Angelou was deeply depressed in the months following King's assassination, so to help lift her spirits, Baldwin brought her to a dinner party at the home of cartoonist Jules Feiffer and his wife Judy in late The next day she called Robert Loomis at Random House , who became Angelou's editor throughout her long writing career until he retired in ,  and "told him that he ought to get this woman to write a book".
She shared the manuscript with her friend writer Jessica Mitford before submitting it for publication. Angelou subsequently wrote six additional autobiographies, covering a variety of her young adult experiences. They are distinct in style and narration, but unified in their themes, and stretch from Arkansas to Africa, and back to the US, from the beginnings of World War II to King's assassination.
Critics have often judged Angelou's later autobiographies "in light of the first", and Caged Bird generally receives the highest praise. Beginning with Caged Bird , Angelou used the same "writing ritual" for many years.
She wrote on yellow legal pads while lying on the bed, with a bottle of sherry, a deck of cards to play solitaire , Roget's Thesaurus , and the Bible, and left by the early afternoon. She averaged 10Ч12 pages of material a day, which she edited down to three or four pages in the evening.
Critic Opal Moore says about Caged Bird : " Though easily read, [it] is no 'easy read'". She has stated, "It may take an hour to get into it, but once I'm in itЧha! It's so delicious! When selecting a title, Angelou turned to Paul Laurence Dunbar , an African American poet whose works she had admired for years.
Jazz vocalist and civil rights activist Abbey Lincoln suggested the title. Hagen, the title pulls Angelou's readers into the book while reminding them that it is possible to both lose control of one's life and to have one's freedom taken from them. I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, When he beats his bars and would be free; It is not a carol of joy or glee, But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core, But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings Ч I know why the caged bird sings.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings follows Marguerite's called "My" or "Maya" by her brother life from the age of three to seventeen and the struggles she faces Ч particularly with racism Ч in the Southern United States. Abandoned by their parents, Maya and her older brother Bailey are sent to live with their paternal grandmother Momma and disabled uncle Uncle Willie in Stamps, Arkansas.
Maya and Bailey are haunted by their parents' abandonment throughout the book Ч they travel alone and are labeled like baggage. Many of the problems Maya encounters in her childhood stem from the overt racism of her white neighbors. Although Momma is relatively wealthy because she owns the general store at the heart of Stamps' Black community, the white children of their town hassle Maya's family relentlessly.
One of these "powhitetrash" girls, for example, reveals her pubic hair to Momma in a humiliating incident. Maya has to endure the insult of her name being changed to Mary by a racist employer. A white speaker at her eighth grade graduation ceremony disparages the Black audience by suggesting that they have limited job opportunities. A white dentist refuses to treat Maya's rotting tooth, even when Momma reminds him that she had loaned him money during the Depression.
The Black community of Stamps enjoys a moment of racial victory when they listen to the radio broadcast of Joe Louis 's championship fight, but generally, they feel the heavy weight of racist oppression. A turning point in the book occurs when Maya and Bailey's father unexpectedly appears in Stamps. He takes the two children with him when he departs, but leaves them with their mother in St.
Louis, Missouri. Eight-year-old Maya is sexually abused and raped by her mother's boyfriend, Mr. He is found guilty during the trial, but escapes jail time and is murdered, presumably by Maya's uncles. Maya feels guilty and withdraws from everyone but her brother. Even after returning to Stamps, Maya remains reclusive and nearly mute until she meets Mrs. Bertha Flowers, "the aristocrat of Black Stamps,"  who encourages her through books and communication to regain her voice and soul.
This coaxes Maya out of her shell. Later, Momma decides to send her grandchildren to their mother in San Francisco, California , to protect them from the dangers of racism in Stamps. Before graduating, she becomes the first Black female cable car conductor in San Francisco. While still in high school, Maya visits her father in southern California one summer and has some experiences pivotal to her development.
She drives a car for the first time when she must transport her intoxicated father home from an excursion to Mexico. She experiences homelessness for a short time after a fight with her father's girlfriend. During Maya's final year of high school, she worries that she might be a lesbian which she confuses due to her sexual inexperience with the belief that lesbians are also hermaphrodites.
She ultimately initiates sexual intercourse with a teenage boy. She becomes pregnant, which on the advice of her brother, she hides from her family until her eighth month of pregnancy in order to graduate from high school. Maya gives birth at the end of the book. Angelou's prose works, while presenting a unique interpretation of the autobiographical form , can be placed in the long tradition of African-American autobiography.
At first, Angelou intended to return to poetry and play-writing after completing Caged Bird and write no more autobiographies, but she chose the genre as her primary mode of expression because of its challenge and so that she could "change it, to make it bigger, richer, finer, and more inclusive in the twentieth century".
In a interview, she stated, "I think I am the only serious writer who has chosen the autobiographical form to carry my work, my expression". Cudjoe agrees, and sees Angelou as representative of the convention in African-American autobiography as a public gesture that speaks for an entire group of people. Scholar Joanne M. Braxton sees Caged Bird as "the fully developed black female autobiographical form that began to emerge in the s and s". She went through with it, anyway, after her husband Paul Du Feu advised her to be honest about it.
Angelou has recognized that there are fictional aspects to her books, and that she tends to "diverge from the conventional notion of autobiography as truth". She stated, "Sometimes I make a diameter from a composite of three or four people, because the essence in only one person is not sufficiently strong to be written about.
As Hagen states, "One can assume that 'the essence of the data' is present in Angelou's work". Angelou uses two distinct voices, the adult writer and the child who is the focus of the book, whom Angelou calls "the Maya character". Angelou reports that maintaining the distinction between herself and the Maya character is "damned difficult", but "very necessary". According to Lupton, the two books share the following similarities: a focus on young strong-willed heroines who have solid relationships with their brothers, an examination of the role of literature in life, and an emphasis on the importance of family and community life.
Walker, was thematic unity. One of Angelou's goals was to create a book that satisfied this criterion, in order to achieve her political purposes, which were to demonstrate how to resist racism in America. The structure of the text, which resembles a series of short stories, is not chronological but rather thematic.
According to Walker, critics had neglected analyzing its structure, choosing to focus instead on its themes, which he feels neglects the political nature of the book. He states, "One serves Angelou and Caged Bird better by emphasizing how form and political content work together". The progression Maya goes through thematically unifies the book, something that "stands in contrast to the otherwise episodic quality of the narrative".
For example, the incident with the "powhitetrash" girls takes place in chapter 5, when Maya was ten years old, well before Angelou's recounting of her rape in chapter 12, which occurred when Maya was 8.
Walker explains that Angelou's purpose in placing the vignettes in this way is that it followed her thematic structure. However, Hagen notes that instead of beginning Caged Bird chronologically, with Maya and Bailey's arrival in Stamps, Angelou begins the book much later chronologically by recounting an embarrassing experience at church, an incident that demonstrates Maya's diminished sense of self, insecurity, and lack of status.
In the course of Caged Bird , Maya, who has been described as "a symbolic character for every black girl growing up in America",  goes from being a victim of racism with an inferiority complex to a self-aware individual who responds to racism with dignity and a strong sense of her own identity.
Feminist scholar Maria Lauret states that the "formation of female cultural identity" is woven into the book's narrative, setting Maya up as "a role model for Black women". Maya's unsettled life in Caged Bird suggests her sense of self "as perpetually in the process of becoming, of dying and being reborn, in all its ramifications".
As Lauret indicates, Angelou and other female writers in the late s and early s used autobiography to reimagine ways of writing about women's lives and identities in a male-dominated society. Up until this time, Black women were not depicted realistically in African-American fiction and autobiography, meaning that Angelou was one of the first Black autobiographers to present, as Cudjoe put it, "a powerful and authentic signification of [African-American] womanhood in her quest for understanding and love rather than for bitterness and despair".
As French and Lessing do in their novels, Angelou employs the narrator as protagonist and depends upon "the illusion of presence in their mode of signification". As a displaced girl, Maya's pain is worsened by an awareness of her displacement. She is "the forgotten child", and must come to terms with "the unimaginable reality" of being unloved and unwanted;  she lives in a hostile world that defines beauty in terms of whiteness and that rejects her simply because she is a Black girl.
Maya internalizes the rejection she has experienced Ч her belief in her own ugliness was "absolute". Angelou uses her many roles, incarnations, and identities throughout her books to illustrate how oppression and personal history are interrelated. For example, in Caged Bird , Angelou demonstrates the "racist habit"  of renaming African Americans, as shown when her white employer insists on calling her "Mary".
Angelou describes the employer's renaming as the "hellish horror of being 'called out of [one's] name'". Maya understands that she is being insulted and rebels by breaking Mrs.
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