Book Title: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou is her autobiography in which she relates the early years of her life and her transition from a child of a broken family and victim of racism to a survivor of child sexual abuse and rape, and a mother at the age of sixteen. The story is told through the perspective of Marguerite Johnson aka Maya Angelou, an African American girl who, as a result of her parent’s divorce was sent to Stamp, Arkansas along with her brother to live with her grandmother and uncle. The story is set during the 1930s, a time when Black Americans were not given their due rights, status, and respect and were treated as lesser beings by the whites. Moreover, they were persecuted and abused by the white supremacist group known as Ku Klux Klan for having a different skin color than theirs. The book illustrates Angelou’s struggle to accept herself, her identity as a black, and her fight for her rights as a colored American woman. This book also shows the nature of people in power and authority and how they enjoy abusing their power by oppressing the oppressed.
The title of the book is taken from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy” which is about a “caged bird” whose freedom is snatched from him and though he beats his wings and sings, he is unhappy because he is not free. By choosing this title for her book, Angelou uses the symbol of the “caged bird” for herself, who despite suffering abandonment from her parents, child sexual abuse, and rape, emerges as a stronger and positive person. The caged bird represents not only her but all the blacks who were oppressed and whose freedom was taken from them due to their skin color. Angelou decides to stand up for herself and finds her refuge in books and literature. Her resilience and positivity lead her to become a better person which helps her in her fight to break the manmade shackles of racism that had devoid the blacks of their equal rights and opportunities.
I like how Angelou sheds light on the ugly side of human nature who could go to all extents to humiliate and degrade any person based on their color. However, the book also introduced characters such as Miss Kirwin, Angelou’s teacher who treats her students alike despite their color and background. The book is interesting and gives a peek into Angelou’s life during her early years and also into the condition of blacks during the 1930s. However, I felt that the book didn’t offer a sense of completion or closure. Maybe because it is only the first book out of her seven autobiographies and Angelou chose to write about her later life in those books, but still, I couldn’t find it a complete whole. Hence, I rated it five stars.