Why The Caged Bird Sings Essay

The title, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, evokes a feeling of muffled hope. The reader can easily relate to the metaphor of a caged bird that moves on through life and tries to make the best of it. Although Maya Angelou had a life containing vulgarity and ugliness, she rose above her unfortunate situation and lived her life to the fullest. She continued on after being raped, being stabbed by her stepmother, and even becoming a teenage mother. The adversity gave her strength, and the diversity of family and environment resulted in her knowledge of the world and people around her. The most contrasting people in her life were her grandmother, Momma, and her mother, Mother Dear.

Momma was the epitome of a southern African-American woman. Maya once said, “Bailey, by the way” (102), and Momma told her she had committed a sin and prayed immediately for God to “forgive this child” (103). Her explanation to Maya of the outburst was that, “Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Light” and anyone who says “by the way” is really saying, “by Jesus,” or “by God” and the Lord’s name would not be taken in vain in her house” (103). Momma routinely went to church every Sunday, making sure to dress up accordingly and have the Sunday dinner ready for the pastor if he happened to be in town. Momma was a highly regarded woman who was referred to as “Mrs.” (48) which was unusual for a African-American to be called, and she had tried to be a usual, southern, God-fearing wife, but she married a total of three times and never found the right one. She also kept to the old ways and did not talk freely about whites. If she did bring white people into a conversation she would refer to them as “they” (47). Momma is, without a doubt, highly conservative. She considers herself a realist because of the fact that she does not go against the whites. She rationalizes reality is that whites are in control, and in fighting against the most powerful, she will most likely than not, fail and ruin herself and her family. Momma manages a strict house filled with necessary routine and control. She wanted the kids to set examples for the rest and often “sent [Maya and Bailey] to her bedroom with warnings to have [their] Sunday school lesson perfectly memorized or [they] knew what [they] could expect” (36). Maya learned discipline from Momma’s tough love. Momma continually showed extensive care for everything she became involved in, especially church, her town, and Maya and Bailey’s well being.

Mother Dear was a loose idealist with a nursing degree, but she chose to work at gambling parlors. Maya said it was “twenty years before [she] saw [Mother Dear] in a nursing uniform” (70) because she needed more glamour in her life that just a “straight eight-to-five” (70) job. She was a “fly by the seat of her pants” kind of person, who obviously loved taking chances have having continuous change in her life as opposed to routine. Maya said that she “never saw [Mother Dear] in the house” (64). Mother Dear liked to be “out and about”, keeping busy, making money, and having fun. Mother Dear made Bailey and Maya’s lives easy by giving them “a room with a two-sheeted bed, plenty to eat and store-bought clothes to wear” (68). Bailey and Maya barely even had chores to do which was quite a change from Momma. Mother Dear preferred to live her life freely and without being tied down, as she was never married. Mother Dear loved the kids and “was competent in providing for [them] – even if it meant getting someone else to furnish the provisions” (70). Mother Dear was a genuinely caring person, especially for Maya and Bailey, Jr., but she was not in real control of the situation from day to day and basically gave them the necessities for living and then left them to their own accord.

Mother Dear and Momma are differing in most aspects of their lives, but they do hold the same feelings about being independent women, caring for Bailey and Maya, and being strong in everything they do, however opposite their goals may be. Wearing lipstick or not, making the kids do many chores or not, are in the end, going to be much more petty issues than holding strong beliefs and being independent.

Maya Angelou had to show these two important people as part of her life because without them she would not be the person she is today. Mother Dear and Momma’s different opinions gave Maya the ability to see both perspectives, both sides of the story, and make her own judgment on the event, belief or feeling. Her need to show how religious Momma was and then to show how loose and lipstick-wearing Mother Dear had been essentially was meant to inform the reader and give them a complete picture of what Maya’s life was like and the reasoning behind her actions and thoughts.

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I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

In her autobiography, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou writes about the challenges she faced growing up as a black girl in the southern states of America and California in the 1930's and 1940's. It is a vivid retelling of the turbulent events of her childhood, during which she shuttled back and forth between dramatically different environments in rural Stamps, Arkansas, St. Louis, Missouri, and San Francisco, California. Maya Angelou writes in detail about how she is confronted with rape, racism, and sexism at an early stage in her life. Her autobiography is also a story of her relationships with a diverse cast of characters. Among these characters are her grandma, Annie Henderson, her brother Bailey Johnson Jr., her father Bailey Johnson, and her mother Vivian Johnson. These characters are the cast for this vivid retelling of the drama of Maya Angelou's growing-up years. During these years, she struggled against the odds of being black at a time when prejudice, especially in the South, was at its height. But most of all, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, is her coming age of story; it is her story of discovering who she is.

When Maya Angelou is three years old, her parents have a divorce and send her and her four-year-old brother Bailey from California to Arkansas to live with her grandmother in a town that is divided by color and full of racism. They are raised by her grandmother and then sent back to their carefree mother in the absence of a father figure. At age eight, she is raped by her mother's boy friend, Mr. Freeman. Maya Angelou clearly expresses the physical pain of sexual assault, the mental anguish of not daring to tell, and her guilt and shame for having been raped. Her timidity and fear of telling about the incident magnify the brutality of the rape. For more than a year after the rape, she lives in silence, speaking only very rarely. Eventually, Maya Angelou manages to somewhat put the rape behind her and pays more...

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