I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is Angelou's autobiography of her childhood until the birth of her son at age 16. She was born in 1928 when negroes were still second class citizens in the South. When she was around 4 or so, she and her brother Bailey were sent to live with their grandmother in Arkansas.
Her grandmother ran a small store that supplied food to the local cotton pickers. Marguerite (Maya's name) remembered the people stopping by the store jauntily in the morning, then tiredly at the end of the day. She saw all the work that went in for little return. She saw the strong Christian faith and the strong ethics. Her grandmother and uncle insisted on the two children learning their lessons well. She remembers the threat of the hot stove her uncle used when she faltered in her times tables.
When she was older she and Bailey joined their mother in St. Louis. The big city was vastly different than rural Arkansas. Her mother was living with a man who they were to consider as their father. Unfortunately, that man also liked young girls. After the rape and a trial, she and Bailey returned to Arkansas. A few years later they joined first their mother, then father in California.
Bailey had been Marguerite's mainstay throughout her young life. She looked up to him, protected him, and loved him. When he left to make his own way in the world she was on her own despite her parents.
Angelou tells her story in a straight forward manner. She doesn't ask for pity, but doesn't act like nothing happened either. It affects her and she shows she has grown beyond it. Her youth helped shape her now - giving us the story teller and poet that Angelou became. Her narrative matter of factness pulls the reader in and gains support from the reader.
Yes, the can be considered a controversial book. Yet it is one I have to recommend to gain not only a picture of a young black woman in the 1940's, but the feelings common to many young people as they are growing and approaching adulthood. She experienced and relates inner struggles that many people experience. Don't expect light and laughter, but don't expect gloom and doom, either. Angelou ends her narrative in a sense of hope.
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