I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

October 25, 2011
By , Solon, OH
The title of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou may intrigue its readers from the very beginning. When the title of the book is finally understood, the full meaning of the book can be grasped. The book is not a cry for pity, nor a plea for help, but a story of a young, naïve girl whom finally found herself. Maya Angelou went through so many difficult situations; including traveling from one home to another frequently, surviving through the “Mexico” incident, and living in a junkyard. These horrible situations are similar in that they show that Maya Angelou was able to overcome all these hardships, and in so doing became someone extraordinary. The title explains that even though she has suffered often and deeply at times, Maya is still able to “sing.” She’s not simply humming. Nor merely whistling. She is full out vocalizing high C’s and D’s. To me, a singing person is a happy person. So with that said, this inspiring book teaches that no matter how many hardships one has endured, the possibility to overcome those struggles and “sing” is definitely reachable.

At a young age, Maya was sent away from her home (in Stamps) to live in “California with Daddy” (56). Despite her excitement to spend time with him, Maya’s “daddy” seemed to be more “vexed with Bailey than her” (57). When it became clear to her that she wasn’t actually going to California, Maya began to feel extremely homesick and “[wanted] to go back to Stamps” (68). Correspondingly, Maya felt like an “unwanted [child]” (60). Although this was difficult for Maya, she discovered a way to overcome it. As the frequency of moving became more common, Maya learned to accept each new place to live as a new opportunity. For example, when she met her mother, Maya embraced the experience to the fullest by having an open mind, admiring her mother, and hoping the time with Mother went smoothly. Both Maya and Bailey were “struck dumb” when meeting mother, thinking she was “too beautiful to have children” (60). Paul Laurence Dunbar said in the poem “Sympathy,” Maya “[sent] a prayer from [her] heart’s deep core… [and sang].”Other than impressing her mother, Maya sang by spending the time in St. Lewis doing extremely well in school. “[Her] teachers thought that [she] … would make [her] classmates feel inferior- and [she] did” (63). Maya was able to make the situation in St. Lewis better by excelling in the classroom and impressing many others.

Furthermore, Maya had to grow up extremely quickly, specifically when driving her passed-out father all the way home from Mexico. After a full night of drinking, Daddy “began snoring” and Maya was scared for her life (236). Maya “fumbled over the knobs” as she attempted to start the car (237). Once she finally succeeded, she drove almost the entire way home… without any knowledge of driving! This near death experience taught Maya the necessity of being responsible. Although this situation was very hard for her, Maya learned to provide for herself as she made the best of this horrible experience and absorbed the valuable lessons it offered. In addition, Maya knew that Dolorous (her dad’s fiancé) didn’t like her and she “[didn’t] mean to come between [Dolorous and her father]” (245). She was able to overcome this hardship by realizing the hard truth that her father was not a reliable caretaker, and she left!

Lastly, when Maya felt that she couldn’t live with her father anymore, she used the independence growing inside her, packed up her things, and walked out. With nowhere left to go, she found some new friends in a junkyard and it became a true “community” for her (253). She overcame the bad situation with her dad by finding a new home with a “lack of criticism [that] set a tone of tolerance for [her] life” (254). The community she found showed her the importance of having a group of people whom you can rely on, yet still be independent. For example, the community would raise money by begging and/or working and the “money was… used communally” (253). The community made Maya feel like she belonged somewhere, overcoming her challenge of not fitting in.

Maya Angelou’s book is filled with the hardships she endured, but in the end they made her stronger. It is just like a bone that heals stronger where it has been broken. In the words of Paul Laurence Dunbar in his poem “Sympathy,” “I know why the caged bird sings… when its wings are bruised… a plea that up to heaven it flings.” Maya overcame her struggles fully, and in fact, she is singing! She must be doing pretty well then! And, her book is “singing” out to all its readers. Our struggles have the potential to make us stronger. Never give up, and with sustained effort, comes a great chance of success.





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