I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings - Critique.
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The book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was educational in that it depicts the harsh childhood that the author, Maya Angelou, led. In reading the story, I found myself enveloped in the book. The title of the book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, seems to mean that Maya can relate to a caged bird singing. She has become caged in that she lives in a time of racism and that her gender makes it all the harder. She relates to the reason the bird sings in that at the end of the book she finally accepts her womanhood and her color as what it is not as what it could have been. At the beginning of the book, the reader sees how far racism has distorted Maya's reality. Maya believes that by wearing a dress that she was going to look 'like one of the sweet little white girls who were everybody's dream of what was right with the world. (P1)' But the dress was 'a white woman's once-was-purple throwaway.' Because of the blatant racism that Maya faced and the hard life that a black child led, she was made to think that white people were better than black people. She would fantasize that her 'real hair, which was long and blond, would take the place of the kinky mass that Momma wouldn't let [her] straighten...' and her 'light blues eyes' would replace the eyes that were 'small and squinty.
However, their mother would be considered more lowly simply because she is black, and was not allowed the privilege of being considered alongside a white woman. Even on graduation day, racism made itself present. During the graduation, a man named Mr. Donleavy gave a speech to Maya's graduating class. In the speech, the graduating classes were harshly reminded of the limits on their futures, just because they were black; they were not expected to attain professional careers, and the girls weren't expected to do anything but become wives and mothers. As much as they might aspire, the reality was that there were firm limits on what they could do in society, simply because of their skin color. Maya was repulsed by this idea, that the fate of her schoolmates was already decided because of prejudice. Angelou alluded to Gabriel Prosser, George Washington Carver, Nat Turner, and Harriet Tubman to show examples of black Americans who were able to achieve, despite society's biases. But, even they were rare examples of success. Henry Reed, the valedictorian, gave a speech after the speech of Mr. Donleavy. The allusions to Hamlet in Henry Reed's speech were ironic, coming after Mr. Donleavy's speech. Together with the "Negro National Anthem," Maya seemed to realize that she was black, and that those ancient works of literature didn't address her situation like those that specifically address the black situation in America. Angelou made embracing this song synonymous with embracing her skin color. She was proud of who she was, and quit her many years spent trying to deny it.
The theme of gender is very important in Maya's story, as she struggles against the limits that women encounter because of gender. When Mr. Freeman rapes Maya, her mother's boyfriend, she is unable to understand what happened to her and she becomes afraid of Mr. Freeman. At this point, Maya feels she is imprisoned in a body that is not only black, but also female. In trial, she lies to the judge that he had touched her before, and later he is killed after being released from jail. She thinks that she had done something wrong but doesn't realize she has done nothing wrong. She can escape from neither of these physical realities, and the prejudice or misfortune that both being black and female might cause for her. While she is helped by the wealthy black woman named Mrs. Flowers and begins to speak again, it would only be at the end of the book when she accepts herself as who she is. At the end of the book, Maya is pregnant. Her mother tells Maya, "if you're for the right thing, then you do it without thinking"; this is valuable advice for Maya, and also one of the lessons of the novel. Although Maya has acted rashly and made mistakes growing up, in the end she's still a good person and things have come out for the best. Maya learns a valuable lesson in life, which is the value of following her heart; she will make mistakes in the years to come, but she manages to follow her heart, and everything does end up being for the best.
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