I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography by Mya Angelou.

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Corey Pilz                                                                                           March 20, 2003

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings                                                    Period F

        I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography by Mya Angelou, that describes her journey of growing up as an insecure black girl in the rural American South during a time of both war and segregation. Angelou also grew up during the Harlem Renaissance, which was a cultural revolution where African American artists were finally taken seriously by society at large. Both Mya Angelou and the many artists of the Harlem Renaissance present similar themes in their writings that express how hard it was to be an African American during the early 1900’s. One writer in particular, Langston Hughes, presents three central themes throughout his poem, “Dream Variations” that can compared to the three central themes of Mya Angelou’s autobiography.

        To begin, in his poem “Dream Variations,” Hughes presents the idea of segregation, by comparing a “white day” and a “black night.” Throughout I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Angelou struggles with the idea of segregation itself. She realizes that it is something that is present in the world, but truly does not understand its effects until she comes in contact with white people. As Angelou gets older, she is confronted by more obvious and personal incidents of racism, such as a white speaker's overbearing address at her eighth-grade graduation, a white dentist refusing to treat her because she is a “nigger”, and how her white employer insisted on calling her Mary instead of her real name due to how long it was. Angelou’s harsh realization of segregation both angers and baffles her. Living in Stamps, Arkansas, Angelou realizes that segregation means social and political inferiority for the black citizens of the town. The policies of segregation basically set the boundaries of their lives, assuring that they will never be able to be anything in life or be treated as equals. As shown by the quote, “The white kids were going to have a chance to become Galileos and Madame Curies and Edisons and Gauguins, and our boys (the girls weren’t even in on it) would try to be Jesse Ownenses and Joe Louises,” Angelou feels cheated in life that the biggest achievement in life for a black person will be becoming an athlete. Angelou does never give up hope that one day whites and blacks will be equal. When Angelou comes along Miss Kirwin, a teacher in San Francisco, who does not even acknowledge that she is black, but treats as an equal, Angelou is filled with a sense of hope.

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        Another common theme that is present by both Hughes and Angelou is the concept of dreams versus reality. Suggested by the title “Dream Variations,” Hughes is attempting to show that it is only a dream that there can be any type of compatibility between day and night, or blacks and whites. Hughes demonstrates this by showing that in both the day and the night, he is free from white oppression and in a placid state. Angelou sometimes used dreams to show her inferiority over the white people in Stamps. An example would be when she created the dream of Momma ...

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