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Maya Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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Jenny Ho

on 29 April 2014

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Transcript of Maya Angelou: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya (Marguerite) Angelou Character Analysis
Big Motifs in Maya's Life
Religion:
Religion plays a major role in Maya's life. Religion helps spiritually rather then physically for Maya. As, she learns the act of forgiving.

Strong Black Women:
Maya despite being so insecure has had a number of remarkable strong women characters surrounding her. Character such as Momma, Vivian, Grandmother Baxter, and Mrs. Flowers.

Literature:
Literature plays a major role in Maya's life. Literature plays a remarkable role in boosting her confidence and providing her a world in which she can escape too. Mrs. Flowers helps her get up her feet again through literature to rediscover her voice.
Racism and Segregation
-Being raised in the South of Stamps, Arkansas, she is so segregated that she doubts that white people actually exists at such a young age.

-Maya soon becomes familiar with racism directly in her face as she grows older. Racism comes in different forms in Maya's life. From her white boss’s insistence on calling her by the name Mary to a white dentist’s refusal to treat her.

-The unjust social realities confine and demean Maya and her relatives. Regardless, Maya comes to learn how living through racist society has deeply effected the characters of her family members, as she strives to overcome them.

Textual Evidence:
"A light shade had been pulled down between the Black community and all things white, but one could see through it enough to develop a fear-admiration-contempt for the white “things”—white folks’ cars and white glistening houses and their children and their women. But above all, their wealth that allowed them to waste was the most enviable" (49).

"My race groaned. It was our people falling. It was another lynching, yet another Black man hanging on a tree. One more woman ambushed and raped. . . . This might be the end of the world. If Joe lost we were back in slavery and beyond help. It would all be true, the accusations that we were lower types of human beings. Only a little higher than the apes" (135).


Displacement & Abandonment
-Throughout Maya's life she has been moved around to many different places, in turn she develops a shell that guards her against the cold reality of her loneliness. Surrounded by racism, sexism, and power, Maya is unable to put break her shell and feel comfortable.

-Her personal displacement matches the society's larger forces in the displacement of blacks all across the nation. Maya learns that she is not the only one suffering from displacement but as other young children as well. Not only children but adults as well.

-Her sense of abandonment and her need for physical affection lead to further struggles. She later seeks comfort in Mr. Freeman, who molests and rapes her.

Textual Evidence:
"I didn’t come to stay” (1).

"If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on
the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult" (4).

"The gifts opened the door to questions that neither of us wanted to ask. Why did they send us away? and What did we do so wrong? So Wrong? (53).

"I decided that St. Louis is a foreign country" (70).

Change
Maya Angelou had drastically changed from what she was like as a child. She now is confident and is able to appreciate herself for who she is. Maya learns that her transformation will have to take place from within and her life experiences and big influences helped shape her into the strong African American women she is today.

One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.
~Maya Angelou

A wise woman wishes to be no one's enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone's victim.
~Maya Angelou

It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody
~Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou's Character
Maya Angelou is suffering from many personal fears and the fact that she was a black female in America. Maya is very unconfident despite she judges herself and feels like she is judged based on her ungraceful appearance.

-She is really affiliated with the dream that she is blond-haired, blue-eyed girl under her true nature ("black ugly dream").

-The South establishes three obstacles: white prejudice, black powerlessness, and female subjugation for Maya.


Resistance to Racism:
Many of the characters in
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,
show many different forms of resistance to racism. Maya showed her very first rebellion when she broke the Mrs. Cullinan's heirloom China.



Textual Evidence:
"It could have been the hysteria which put her aim off, but the flying crockery caught Miss Glory right over her ear and she starting screaming. I left the front door wide open so all the neighbors could hear. Mrs. Cullinan was right about one thing. My name wasn't Mary.
More Motifs & Discussion Questions

Naming:
To Maya, her name is a sensitive issue. She finds out that her family is connected with finding her name and identity, thus soon it provides a sense of identity in bitter world.



Questions:

1) Which motif do you think influenced Maya the most? Explain your reasons on why.

2) Do you think there is a motif that is missing, that influenced Maya's life.


Discussion Questions
1) Which character or characters did you think have the biggest influence in helping Maya come to her conclusion about being a strong and independent women? Role Model?

2) Maya was suffering from displacement in the book, was it the reason to lead what Mr. Freeman had done to her. How does the rape and Mr. Freeman death influence her through the book?

3) Was there any other depictions of resistance to racism in the book that Maya Angelou depicts?





I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings & Phenomenal Women
The poem, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is the center of this book but also title. The poem explains how a caged bird struggles to escape its confinement. Metaphor, that of a bird struggling to escape its cage, is a central image throughout the work.

While her poem:
Phenomenal Women
is a great example that shows her change. She has now accepted the fact that she is an confident and phenomenal women.
"Because I was really white and because a cruel fairy stepmother, who was understandably jealous of my beauty, had turned me into a too-big Negro girl, with nappy black hair, broad feet and a space between her teeth that would hold a number-two pencil" (3).
More Textual Evidence:
" In Stamps the segregation was so complete that most Black children didn't really, absolutely know what whites looked like" (25).

"These others, the strange pale creatures that lived in their alien unlife, weren't considered folks. They were whitefolks" (26).

"Mrs. Cullinan cried louder, " That clumsy nigger. Clumsy little black nigger" (110).

"Annie, my policy is I'd rather stick my hand in a dog's mouth than in a nigger's" (189).

"The humorless puzzle of inequality and hate" (198).

"The Black female is assaulted in her tender years by all those common forces of nature at the same time that she is caught in the tripartite crossfire of masculine prejudice, white illogical hate and Black lack of power. The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste and even belligerence" (272).
Work Cited
"Maya Angelou ." JPG file.

Angelou, Maya. "Caged Bird." Poetry Foundation. Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178948>.

Angelou, Maya. "Phenomenal Woman." Poemhunter.com. N.p., 3 Jan. 2003. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/phenomenal-woman/>.

"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Quotes ." <i>goodreads</i>. goodreads, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. &lt;https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CCkQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.goodreads.com%2Fwork%2Fquotes%2F1413589-i-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings&ei=ogZfU_fFI-HjsAStoIG4Cw&usg=AFQjCNFcMEuA_Cxx0OCvY5htcmb0OOj9yg&sig2=8yJdvztq3oM2Fjg7WuXdDA&gt;.

Reed, Ben . "." JPG file.

"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." SparkNotes. SparkNotes, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. <https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CDIQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.sparknotes.com%2Flit%2Fcagedbird%2Fquotes.html&ei=ogZfU_fFI-HjsAStoIG4Cw&usg=AFQjCNHTm6Pbaqc-U4dUGUllLUjeYluDpQ&sig2=VjrhzSfAiq48qT88gX2p-w>.

Young Marguerite Johnson. N.d.


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