We see Maya Angelous recount her early life, from when she was three to sixteen, and how a great if not overwhelming portion of that period of her existence was dominated by all sorts of oppressive forces taking the forms of rape, racism, and general prejudice. It is the tone and overall trajectory of the work that leads itself to significance, however, as it is that particular level to the work that creates the quite beautiful title “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”.
We bear witness to a slurry of things that absolutely hamper and demolish much of Maya’s life, events that are traumatic and striking straight to the core of anyone, especially a child. We can observe that her silence for a long period is a result of this, the mind shutting down and detaching itself from reality, a person existing like a ghost to those around them, even those closest to them.
It is this state of division from the outer world that perfectly paints the picture of the harrowing result of such things as racism and rape. These inhuman realties scar Maya and her body does the only thing it can to protect itself and shuts down, operating at the bare minimum. The victim is silenced and their voice, their shockingly human faculties, are taken away.
However, when we see Maya finally regain her voice, jump back into old interests and find new ones, specifically poetry, we see the caged bird sing. The cage represents all of these things in life that constantly hammer down upon us, the things we must bear like the weight of the world upon our shoulders. We are everyday mortal Atlases holding these traumas and these wounded upon our shoulders and we sacrifice our voice in order to deal with it.
Maya finds her voice through it all though and sings, she lets the songbird that perches within her soul sing aloud despite being encaged by her past and the world. It is the perfect symbol of hope and liberty despite oppression.
Perhaps Maya is trying to say that, when one has accounted for all of their woes, calculated and logged all of the plagues that wreck their life, there will still be hope they can hold on to like a dangling branch above a storming river. Perhaps it does not take the form of expression but there will be something that can flourish despite the darkness, something that can grow and blossom despite the drought.
We see Maya look back upon her nearly life with the eyes of someone who has evolved and grown wise to the realties, the reality that there is light amidst even the darkest of days, hope in the most hopeless of situations. We all are encaged in some way, enslaved by our fears, our pasts, our doubts, and our anxieties, but we can still sing. We may not be able to fly and perch in any tree we so wish but we can let our songs be heard.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a true story about the author’s hard life during the 1960’s, a time in which black people are seen as inferior in many different aspects by society.