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Maya Angelou wrote her autobiographical novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as an attempt to expose the discrimination that pervades society. It is also Angelou's way of coping with the distress and trauma associated with her life in a racially divided, male-dominated community which resulted in her, and many others, suffering as innocent victims of abuse.
Due to a developing self-awareness and an intuition that saves her from being overwhelmed by her circumstances, the young Marguerite (Angelou's original name) or "Ritie," overcomes all her obstacles and, with positive female role-models, she matures into a confident, determined and accomplished adult. Education is very important to her and, upon her graduation, Marguerite comes to a realization that, "I was no longer simply a member of the proud graduating class of 1940; I was a proud member of the wonderful, beautiful Negro race."
There is a light-hearted, self-deprecating and very down-to-earth tone to the book which defies the serious and sometimes demoralizing content and which ensures that the reader is not overwhelmed by the circumstances surrounding Marguerite. Angelou's use of a title which came from a poem, Sympathy, by Paul Laurence Dunbar, an African American poet, who inspired her writing, helps the reader to come to terms with the restrictive, bigoted and unjust society from which people like Angelou manage to emerge as stronger, more resilient people with a huge contribution to make to society.
I would propose that the entire purpose and meaning of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings can be summed up in one word: Resilience. The life of Maya Angelou makes a stunning progression from darkness to light, and from silence to speech. She finds out what she is truly made of through trials and is refined into a person of intense character and stamina. The tone moves from darker and repressed (in the beginning) to expressive and strong in the final chapters (and in her adulthood). The message the reader can take from this book is: The pain from trials and growth into adulthood can be used for our good, and resilience shapes amazing character in people that are willing to persist as survivors.
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